TL;DR – Country before self.
There has been a lot of football talk going on lately, first with the World Cup and now with the the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) rejecting Singaporean footballer Benjamin Davis’ application to defer his national service (NS) enlistment.
If you haven’t been following this incident, here’s a quick summary:
13 July: News broke that Singaporean footballer Benjamin Davis has signed a professional deal with newly promoted Premier League club Fulham FC.
15 July: In a statement on Sunday (Jul 15), MINDEF confirmed that Davis’ application was not approved as he “does not meet the criteria for long-term deferment from full-time NS”.
16 July: Ben’s father, Harvey Davis, says that the family is prepared to allow him to renounce his Singaporean citizenship in order to fulfil his footballing dreams.
17 July: Senior Minister Of State for Defence Heng Chee How says that MINDEF will reject Singapore footballer Benjamin Davis’ application to defer his National Service, should there be no new facts presented in his appeal.
18 July: The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) says that it strongly supported Davis’ request to defer his NS obligations, and will work with the teenager and his family to “persuade” MINDEF.
Public sentiment has been divided on this – some seem to be in favour of a deferment, others like former Permanent Secretary of MFA, Bilahari Kausikan think otherwise and then you have people like my colleague over here who think that this ought to be a case of national policy.
For me, I’m just going to address the elephant in the room that the Premier League is not the same as the Olympics (any other international competition for that matter) and that playing for a Premier League football club is not the same as representing Singapore in the Olympics.
Yes, I know that this could be an opportunity of a lifetime and that there could be some fringe benefits that may perhaps help the national team but to brutally call a spade a spade, he is playing for his club and getting paid for it i.e. it is a job.
If you ask me, it’s easier to say “defer only mah, not like he won’t eventually serve one day” than to actually commit to it. Because this essentially boils down to how long is this deferment going to be?
From quick research aka Google, it seems that a footballer’s career usually lasts till his late thirties. Does Ben then want to serve NS when he is 40?
Or to suddenly take a two-year hiatus when he is in his 20s and presumably peak of his football career to return to Singapore for his NS responsibilities?
I don’t think Ben – or his father – can put a deadline to this as well.
I’m not a sports guru and will not claim to be one, but boy, you are only 17. Perhaps it would make better sense to get your NS obligations out of the way, and then at 19, you can go all out to pursue your dreams, without worrying about having to come back to Singapore for it.
After all, that’s what Irfan and Ikhsan Fandi did. They completed their national service, before heading to Europe for trials with several football clubs.
That being said, maybe our government can consider more flexibility for national athletes serving NS and to also take a leaf out of South Korea’s books which allows deferment up to a certain age… But then again, that isn’t the crux of this matter.
National Service, in a country like Singapore, is more than just a statutory requirement. It is and should always be the bedrock of our national defence and security.
And I’m sure that Ben, being as talented as he is, will not be impeded by this if he continues to train. He might even potentially play better when he’s two years older, after having amassed grit, maturity and resilience by going through NS.
After all, to quote former national coach Vincent Subramaniam,
Talent doesn’t go away, it stays with you.
(All images via)