PH volleyball star Jaja Santiago receives offer to change nationality

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Filipino volleyball athlete Jaja Santiago reveals that she received an offer from Japan to change nationality. PHOTO: AGEO MEDICS

Metro Manila (CNN Philippines, April 4, 2021) — After leading Saitama Ageo Medics to a gold medal finish in the Japan V Cup, Filipino volleyball athlete Jaja Santiago revealed on Saturday that she received an offer from Japan to change nationality.

“Kalagitnaan palang ng liga, kinakausap na nila ako na mag-stay ng maraming taon pa. Gusto nila akong tulungan na palitan ‘yung nationality ko actually,” Santiago said in an interview with YouTube's Volleyball DNA hosted by Anton Roxas.

[Translation: In the middle of the league, they already asked me to stay for more years. They want me to change my nationality actually.]

Should the rising volleyball star grab Japan's citizenship offer, she gets the chance to represent the Land of the Rising Sun in bigger stages such as the Olympics and World Championship.

Japan is known for its volleyball program, with its national teams placing 7th and 9th in the latest Fédération Internationale de Volleyball (FIVB) ranking for women’s and men’s, respectively.

“Well, may dream akong maglaro ng Olympics pero gusto ko munang tulungan ‘yung bansa natin. Doon sa goal ko na ‘yun, gusto ko kasama ko kapwa Pilipino ko,” Santiago said.

[Translation: Well, it’s my dream to play at the Olympics but I want to help the country first. For that goal, I want to be with my fellow Filipinos.]

In 2019, the Larong Volleyball ng Pilipinas (LVPI), governing body of Philippine volleyball at the time, failed to get a clearance from the Saitama-based club for the 6-foot-5 ace to participate in the Southeast (SEA) Games due to conflict schedule.

Meanwhile, Vietnam’s Trần Thị Thanh Thúy and Philippines’ Bryan Bagunas, who were also Japan V League’s imports, were able to help their teams to secure silver-medal finishes in the 12-day tournament without conflict from their club teams.

The first Filipino volleyball player to win a championship in a major foreign league was a product of the National University and a recipient of major University Athletics Association of the Philippines (UAAP) awards including three best attacker and one most valuable player. She joined Ageo Medics in 2018.

But Japan was not the first foreign country to recruit Santiago. Eight years ago, the 17-year-old Jaja was invited to try out for a spot in the University of California-Los Angeles (UCLA) women’s volleyball team. The teen Santiago declined the offer as she was hesitant to be away from family.

Santiago alongside with the country's top volleyball players represented the country in the 2015 and 2017 Southeast Asian Games, 2015 Asian U-23 Women’s Championships, 2016 and 2017 AVC Asian Women’s Club Championship, 2017 Asian Women's Seniors Championship, and 2016 FIVB Women’s Club World Championship, and 2018 Asian Games.