This cannot be right for Singapore sport
Mindef's decision over deferment will end dreams of youngsters in team sports
On Sunday, 20 years after it rang out so magnificently at the Stade de France in Paris, the magnificent French cheer "Allez Les Bleus" roared out again along the Champs-Elysees and all over the country as millions paid homage to their football men who had just scaled the sport's ultimate peak.
Proud, joyous, dreamy, French citizens of various ethnicities and religions celebrated as one, once again toasting a team of various ethnicities and religions who played as one to conquer all in Russia.
Only the sport of football has such magical powers and, when a country is crowned world champion, this is how it salutes the achievement.
Hours before France beat Croatia in Moscow, The Straits Times reported that young Singapore football hopeful Benjamin Davis' request for deferment from national service had been rejected.
It felt like a hammer blow to Singapore's No. 1 sport, and to all male aspirants of team sports in the country.
The 17-year-old signed a professional contract last month, halfway into his two-year football scholarship with English side Fulham FC, newly promoted to the English Premier League. He must now cut short his stint in London and return here in December, unless his appeal is successful.
As part of its statement, Mindef says deferments in sports are given to "those who represent Singapore in international competitions like the Olympic Games and are potential medal winners for Singapore".
Mindef recognises how important deferment is for the continued development of a sportsman pursuing success on the international stage.
But its latest statement suggests it will help a male swimmer realise his talent, or a sailor, but not an individual in a team sport like a footballer, rugby or basketball player, and this is difficult to understand.
Lest anyone be mistaken, NS is most important for every Singaporean male and anyone capable of performing the duty must.
But, surely, restricting someone from working on his gifts at a crucial period to see how far he can realise his talent and then return for NS cannot be right.
One gifted young Singapore cager will not be able to help the Singapore men's basketball team win gold on the international stage, but surely he must be given all the assistance possible, perhaps even to land a contract in the NBA.
It is what he's best at, after all.
One top Singapore footballer will not steer the Lions to the World Cup Finals, Olympic Games or win gold for the nation at the Asian Games, but he will have more power than Joseph Schooling to move us.
POWER OF FOOTBALL
It is what football does and I daresay even Schooling gets it.
Fandi Ahmad was my hero growing up and I, along with an entire country, religiously followed the daily reports during his tryout at Ajax Amsterdam in 1982.
As a nation, we were crestfallen when he turned down the chance to continue at the renowned Dutch club that produced the likes of Johan Cruyff and Marco van Basten.
We went giddy and puffed out our chests with pride when he scored for FC Groningen against Inter Milan in the 1983 Uefa Cup.
We were united in prayer hoping he would come back and play for the Lions at every SEA Games.
We turned up in our tens of thousands every time Fandi played at the National Stadium, Chinese, Malay, Indian, ang mohs, families, husband and wife, girlfriend and boyfriend, young and old.
And he never even managed to win the SEA Games gold.
Fulham may be unfashionable, but it is going to be punching in the celebrated ring that is the EPL.
Like millions around the world, Ben would have been dreaming of playing in the EPL since he was a kid.
While all the time knowing he would have to follow his brother into NS, his parents supported his football quest, hoping Mindef would grant a deferment.
Now, Ben's dream is in tatters.
Fandi enlisted in NS from 1980 to 1981, and his big chance with Ajax came the following year. But that was a different age.
With clubs today scouring the globe for talent, one opportunity is mostly all a youngster will get, especially for those from a football backwater like Singapore.
I hope Mindef recognises this.
I hope Mindef can send a message to Singapore parents and their young dreamers that while NS must be served, if you are gifted at football, basketball, rugby or any other team sport, and want to work hard to be a Fandi, or even a George Weah, Yao Ming or Bryan Habana, you will get help.
To do what you're best at.