Mixed views on Ben Davis' non-deferment for NS
S'pore footballer signs pro contract with Fulham, but needs to enlist in Dec
Teenage footballer Ben Davis, who became the first Singaporean to sign a professional contract with an English Premier League club after inking a deal with Fulham FC last month, will have to return to Singapore in December to enlist for national service (NS).
The Ministry of Defence (Mindef), in a statement to the Straits Times on Saturday, confirmed that the 17-year-old's application for deferment was not approved as "he does not meet the criteria for long-term deferment from full-time NS".
Several people in the local football fraternity The New Paper spoke to had mixed views.
Former national goalkeeper Lionel Lewis believes that while national service is important, relaxing the rules for athletes may incentivise greater sporting performances.
The 35-year-old, who was the 2004 Tiger Cup's Most Valuable Player, said: "Maybe in future, sports in Singapore would benefit if we can see it as a form of national service. That would encourage more to perform."
The Mindef statement added that "in sports, deferments are granted only to those who represent Singapore in international competitions like the Olympic Games and are potential medal winners for Singapore".
Only three Singaporeans have met the deferment criteria in the past 15 years. They are national swimmers Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen, who were given NS deferment to compete at the 2016 Olympics and again for the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
Sailor Maximilian Soh was the other athlete who was granted a year-long deferment in 2007 to compete at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Based on the criteria, athletes from team sports such as football will have it tough, but that has not stopped some others from also trying.
One example is 18-year-old Iskandar Radewaldt, who is playing in the Under-19 team at FC Viktoria 1889 Berlin, a fourth-tier club in Germany, though he is still awaiting the results of his deferment application.
His father Franco, founder of the German Football Academy in Singapore, said: "People think the meaning of national service is to create bonds and camaraderie, but footballers are already practising all those values, and serving with their sport is better because the country is gaining reputation."
Aidil Sharin, coach of Singapore Premier League side Home United, said NS is something every Singapore male will have to go through.
He said: "In our country, we still have to serve, no matter what, this is our journey...
"As footballers, two years in NS and even one year out and you can really become rusty, it's a big difference. Of course, it's not easy."
Ben's father Harvey, who told ST that they will be submitting an appeal, said that with Ben, the question is when he will serve.
They hope that he is given the opportunity to pursue his dream, make Singapore and Singapore football proud.
His older son has already served NS and so will Ben and his younger boy.