MAXINE ESTEBAN gave up her Filipino citizenship in favor of Ivory Coast—a country situated in West Africa—a decision she bitterly made but one she hopes won’t motivate other Filipino athletes to do the same.
“I hope I will be the last,” said the highest-ranked Philippine-born fencer in the world, who’s now competing for her new country’s orange, white and green colors instead of the red, white, blue and yellow.
“It hurt me a lot, I felt abused,” Esteban told a sports online program over the weekend. “My prayer and hope is that whatever happened to me [would] never happen to any Filipino athlete. What [my federation] did to me was extremely hurtful, unfair and disrespectful.”
Esteban said things went sour when she got injured while competing for the Philippines at the world fencing championships in Egypt in July last year.
The eight-time national champion and the only Filipino multi-medalist in the World Cup tore her ACL and had to rehabilitate for six months.
Esteban said that upon learning the extent of her injury, she immediately wrote the Philippine Fencing Association (PFA) requesting that she be excused from national and international events of the Olympic qualifiers.
The PFA, Esteban said, wrote her back and heeded her request
“In other countries, you don’t need to do that,” Esteban said. “You are excused and your ranking stays while you recover because that is the least that they can do to show their appreciation for your service and sacrifices.”
To her surprise, she was informed by fellow fencers that her name was missing in the list of national athletes. She said the PFA didn’t formally inform her of the decision.
The world No. 39 then sought an audience with the PFA board, reminding the federation that she’s been excused from the national team. The board didn’t hear her.
She denied that her decision to switch allegiance is motivated by economics—Ivory Coast is one of the biggest economies in West Africa although its people do not necessarily share the fruits of its resources.
“First of all, I did not turn my back on my country,” she said. “I turned my back on my federation because it turned its back on me first.”
Esteban said she had several offers for naturalization from other countries but chose Ivory Coast because of her family’s long-standing ties to the country. She had also held clinics and donated fencing equipment to Ivory Coast when she was younger.
Esteban said she no longer has any regrets but hopes that by sharing her experience, it will lead to change in the way things are being done in national federations, particularly those who arbitrarily change rules to fit their whims.