Despite arguments against the move, Sen. Manny Pacquiao’s proposed bill to naturalize a Russian wrestler is nothing new overseas and even a norm to some countries.
Supporters of the bill noted how the approach to make Filipino foreign athletes could be favorable to the future of Philippine sports.
Naturalizing athletes is already being done in the United States and other countries to improve the country’s chances of winning in prestigious international sports competitions such as the Olympics.
Pacquiao sought the naturalization of Russian freestyle wrestling champion Egor Dmitriev provided by Senate Bill 969, otherwise known as “An Act Granting Philippine Citizenship to Egor Dmitriev.”
Those arguing against the bill said Pacquiao, an international boxing legend, should instead focus on training Filipino wrestlers instead of importing foreigners to become Filipino athletes.
The veteran boxer explained that Dmitriev expressed his interest in training and competing with the Philippine National Wrestling Team if the citizenship was granted to him.
He also stressed that Dmitriev’s skills will be helpful to improve the wrestling landscape in the country.
“Due to the lack of programs, technology, training, equipment, promotion, and pool of athletes in this Olympic sport, the country is in a competitive disadvantage. With this, foreign athletes can help in honing the development and skills of this sport,” he said in the bill’s explanatory note.
The proposed measure introduced Dmitriev as a Russian Federation (Sakha Republic) freestyle wrestling champion who had competed at several events held by United World Wrestling, the governing body for major wrestling competitions.
The process of naturalization and the qualifications for it are stated in Commonwealth Act 473 or the Revised Naturalization Law.
Despite his celebrated boxing career, Pacquiao’s political life had been spotty. He is known for having controversial views in favor of the death penalty and derogatory comments against the LGBT community.
All about balancing
Naturalized athletes have brought great contributions to the sports arena of several countries in recent years.
During the Asian Games in 2018, Bahrain had at least 20 of its athletes born outside of the country, particularly Nigeria, Kenya, Morocco and Ethiopia.
They took home 25 medals for the Gulf state by the end of the regional sports event.
In 2012, more than 40 of 600 athletes representing the United States at the Olympics were also naturalized foreigners.
Based on the U.S. Olympic Committee, foreign-born U.S. athletes mostly came from Asia and the Pacific islands.
Despite these benefits, some experts warned that there should be a balance between native players and naturalized foreign ones.
“If the level gap between naturalized and domestic players is too big, it’s hard for the naturalized athletes to merge into the team or to bring strong encouragement or stimulation to their teammates,” said sportswriter Toshimi Oriyama of Japan.