Over 10,000 sign petition for Mindef to reconsider Ben's deferment
As 19-year-old football sensation Kylian Mbappe received his World Cup winner's medal on a rainy Moscow night, thousands of Singaporeans have rallied around another future star.
Teenage footballer Ben Davis, who recently signed a professional deal with newly promoted English Premier League side Fulham FC, could see his dreams scuppered after the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said on Saturday that it had rejected his application to defer his National Service (NS) enlistment.
The Singaporean, 17, is appealing the decision but his father, Harvey Davis, said that if it proves unsuccessful, Ben could be left with no choice but to turn his sights abroad.
"Giving up the Singaporean citizenship is not something we want to consider," Davis told The New Paper yesterday .
"Everything that we were asked to do, (Ben has) done... He's proud of his Eurasian heritage, he has studied in Singapore and he's part of a Singapore product."
Under Fifa's rules, Ben is also eligible to play for England or Thailand as Davis is from the UK and Ben's mother is Thai.
"Asking a 17-year-old to make that decision, it's not an easy decision. I read comments online saying he can come back after two years, but speak to anyone in a football academy... you take two years out of their lives, the football's not going to happen," Davis said.
At press time, close to 10,000 people have signed an online petition on website Change.org asking Mindef to reconsider its decision, and the issue has been hotly debated online.
Chan Wei signed the petition as he felt that Mindef's decision was detrimental to the attraction, cultivation and retention of talent here.
The business analyst, who works in the UK, said: "It is sad that Mindef fails to recognise that national pride and sporting excellence extends far beyond the Olympics."
Taking a contrarian view, retired diplomat Bilahari Kausikan wrote in a Facebook post that the opportunity for Ben to play for Fulham was a professional opportunity, no different in principle from an opportunity to study or work overseas which many others have sacrificed or delayed to complete their NS.
He wrote: "If (Ben) is allowed to defer NS, what grounds can others in the same non-football situation, be denied deferment?"
Joan Pereira, deputy chairwoman for the Defence and Foreign Affairs Government Parliamentary Committee (GPC), agreed.
"The key issue that is at stake is that of upholding the integrity of the mandatory enlistment requirement for NS," she said.
"There is room for a deeper discussion and reflection on how we can help our athletes and youth to realise their fullest potential and yet still be able to serve their national service obligations."
Nominated MP Ganesh Rajaram, who spoke in Parliament last week about the importance of sports education, felt national sports associations (NSAs) could do more.
"NSAs also have to get their act into order and look at the ecosystem...They need to look at talking to Mindef about these things and maybe working out some strategy in the long-term," he said.
"If youth is something that they are going to be focused on, these issues are going to come up again and again."
Premier League Thailand deputy CEO Benjamin Tan said he had watched Ben play when he was in the Under-15s and was impressed by his potential.
Tan said: "It would be a huge loss for Singapore... and it will be another additional good player for Thailand."