NATURALIZED players are here to stay in the Southeast Asian Games (SEAG). But unlike in the recent edition in Cambodia, Philippine Olympic Committee (POC) President Abraham Tolentino wants the imports’ participation to be limited and governed by stricter eligibility requirements next time around.

“Next SEAG Federation (SEAGF) meeting, we will pursue the qualification (of naturalized players) — residency of two years, one year ba, passport lang ba, dalawa lang ba ang puwedeng ipasok na import o naturalized,” Mr. Tolentino said during the recent PSA Forum.

The presence of naturalized players became a contentious issue in the last SEAG in Phnom Penh, where the hosts fielded an unlimited number of foreign-born athletes in various fronts.

In particular, the Cambodians won the men’s 3×3 gold medal with three Americans in their four-member lineup and had seven imports in their silver-earning squad in 5-on-5. The hosts’ naturalized players are said to have obtained their passports a couple of months before the May 5-17 SEAG.

Mr. Tolentino said the POC did not vigorously pursue this agenda for the Cambodia conclave as it took into consideration its own lobbying for Philippine gold mines like obstacle course race and arnis versus the hosts’ import-spiced basketball crew.

The POC honcho, though, was successful in convincing the SEAGF to ensure that at least 10 Olympic sports and 10 Asian sports will be on the program and to limit “regional sports” to four at most in the next Games in Thailand in 2025.

Team Philippines, with 58 golds, 85 silvers and 117 bronzes, dropped one spot to No. 5 overall in the final medal tally in Phnom Penh, finishing behind Cambodia (81-74-127), which had at an all-time high fourth placing in its first hosting. — Olmin Leyba