In the dynamic world of sports, athletes can make decisions—for instance, change nationalities—which might surprise their fellow kababayans.
With the recent announcement of Filipina fencer Maxine Esteban representing Ivory Coast, it is hard not to rethink why athletes change nationalities.
But it is more than just Esteban, who now represents other countries. Golfer Yuka Saso, chess Grandmaster Wesley So, and volleyball star Jaja Santiago are now under different flags.
Why Do Athletes Have to Change Nationalities, Really?
According to an explainer by AP News, athletes have to weigh the number of opportunities available in their home country before looking for another nation that could help them reach their goals.
If one country offers better, let’s say, training facilities, and a supportive government, unlike those that focus only on popular sports like basketball, boxing, and others, which do you think will they choose?
A perfect example of this is the chess grandmaster Wesley So.
A prodigy of the game, So was the youngest player to pass a 2600 skill rating for chess players in zero-sum games. He even broke the record held by Magnus Carlsen, which means that he was the real deal in the world of chess.
But in 2021, the then-27-year-old grandmaster announced that he would start representing the United States rather than the Philippines.
In an interview with the US Chess Federation, his words had some weight. He said that upon landing in America, he was “encouraged to become better.”
Athletes gain the admiration and support they need if they can bring medals to the Philippines. But to do that, they have to “support” themselves first.
An example is Maxine Esteban, one of the Philippines’ finest fencers.
Esteban said she will represent the West African nation of Ivory Coast to follow up on her dream of earning a spot in the 2024 Paris Olympics. The Philippine Fencing Association (PFA) even had the gall to “encourage” her.
Funding is difficult since fencing is not a big thing in the country. This is why in 2022, Samantha Catantan, a Southeast Asian Games fencing gold medalist, sought private help to have a qualification campaign for the 2024 Paris Olympics.
Financial incentives play a role in athletes changing nationalities. Representing a country with a more lucrative sports market can open doors to:
- Sponsorship Opportunities: Switching to a country with a robust sports market can offer lucrative sponsorship deals, providing financial stability and resources for training and equipment.
- Improved Contracts: Representing a different nation may lead to better contracts and higher salary potential, with favorable terms, performance bonuses, and benefits.
- Access to Better Training: Athletes may switch to countries with advanced sports infrastructure and specialized training programs, enhancing their development and performance.
- High-Profile Competitions: Participation in prestigious leagues and tournaments can bring substantial financial rewards through increased prize money and exposure.
- Endorsement Potential: Representing a country with a strong sports brand and fan base can boost an athlete’s endorsement potential, leading to long-term partnerships and financial gains.
While financial incentives are influential, athletes consider other factors too.
Access to Better Training and Development Programs:
Financial considerations may extend beyond direct monetary rewards. Athletes may choose to change their nationalities to gain access to better training and development programs and also receive:
- Expert Coaching: Joining a national team exposes athletes to renowned coaches and support staff who help refine skills and enhance performance.
- Competitive Environment: Training alongside accomplished teammates in a robust sporting culture fosters healthy competition and pushes athletes to excel.
- Specialized Programs: Countries with established systems offer technical training programs tailored to specific sports, addressing unique requirements.
- Exposure to Elite Competition: Representing a country with a strong sports tradition provides opportunities to compete against elite opponents in prestigious events.
- Sports Science and Technology: Access to cutting-edge sports science research and technology enables athletes to optimize performance and training methods.
Financial incentives are influential. However, athletes also consider other factors such as
- personal circumstances
- sporting opportunities
- cultural connections
- potential impact on their relationship with their home country’s sports community
It is a delicate balance between maximizing growth opportunities and maintaining a sense of loyalty and gratitude to their roots.
Ultimately, athletes’ decisions to change nationalities should be respected as they navigate the complex landscape of competitive sports. It is crucial to understand the unique challenges they face and the various factors that shape their choices.
By doing so, we can appreciate the sacrifices and considerations athletes make in pursuit of their dreams and recognize the impact of financial considerations on their sporting journeys.