SNOC chief Tan calls for more flexibility on NS deferment for elite sportsmen
SNOC chief Tan wants to work with Mindef and figure out a solution to help elite athletes
Over the years, it has cropped up from time to time when the continued development of elite young Singapore male athletes comes into focus.
The athletes worry over whether they can continue to improve when they enlist in National Service, their coaches insist the interruption comes at a critical time and will curtail development.
Crucially, parents question the serious pursuit of a sporting ambition when the two years of NS will have such an impact on their son's athletic progress.
Yesterday, Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) president Tan Chuan-Jin made the call for greater flexibility for the country's elite male athletes with NS.
In his South-east Asia (SEA) Games wrap-up posted on the SNOC website, the Minister for Social and Family Development revealed the sports body wanted to work with the Ministry of Defence (Mindef), as he sets out to "push the boundaries" and try to grow the pool of elite athletes obtaining NS deferment.
The former army brigadier-general, who entered politics in 2011, said: "The question now is do we expand that space (for more deferments)?
"Could you have a slightly bigger band? So you adjust your threshold, so that those who are promising - and you have to define what promising means - therefore may have the possibility of deferment."
When deferment is not possible, the SNOC aims to work with Mindef on giving serviceman-athletes enough time to train while fulfilling their NS duties ahead of major Games.
He said: "We do not need a blanket agreement. But can we work out local solutions with units? And that might be workable, as they have some flexibility there."
While Mindef has routinely allowed short-term deferments ahead of major Games, swimmer Joseph Schooling broke new ground in 2013 when he was allowed to defer his NS till after the Rio Olympics in August next year.
People in the local sporting fraternity The New Paper spoke to lauded Mr Tan for highlighting the issue.
Singapore Athletics president Tang Weng Fei was "pleasantly surprised" , while Singapore Swimming Association chief Lee Kok Choy said greater flexibility with NS would "further enhance Singapore's sporting performance and competitiveness."
But both Tang and sailor Maximilian Soh warned against allowing too many athletes to defer.
"We must draw the line somewhere, and I feel that deferment should be for those who are already world-class, or approaching that level," said Soh, 26, who was allowed a short-term deferment in the lead-up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
But he added that the authorities should not take a one-size-fits-all approach, given the different stages of development among the sports.
He said: "Olympic qualification was a big thing in sailing some years ago, but it's becoming more routine now and we should be aiming higher, but for sports like athletics, perhaps, qualifying for the Olympics may be a big thing, so we cannot apply the same standards across all."
Singapore's SEA Games co-chef de mission Nicholas Fang says the authorities can even set up special units for serviceman-athletes.
The Singapore Modern Pentathlon Association president said: "I hope that one day we can consider having a specific unit for 'sport soldiers', who receive support from the military to pursue their sporting careers.
"This is a scheme that has been introduced and executed with great success in countries like Italy, Germany, South Korea, the US and even Thailand.
"Sports and a fit and healthy lifestyle are an integral part of military training, and I think a closer integration of the two will be beneficial for all sides."
"The question now is do we expand that space (for more deferments)? Could you have a slightly bigger band?"
- Singapore National Olympic Council president and Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin
What they say...
"I hope that one day we can consider having a specific unit for ‘sport soldiers’..."
- Singapore Modern Pentathlon Association president Nicholas Fang
"I feel that deferment should be for those who are already world-class, or approaching that level."
- Sailor Maximilian Soh