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Ben Davis puts NS deferment back in the spotlight


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The Singaporean footballer may have scored a contract with a top English club, but dreams have to take a backseat to National Service.

While France celebrated their World Cup victory yesterday, Singaporean football was hit with a harsh penalty.

Local footballer Ben Davis, the first Singaporean to sign a professional contract with Fulham FC, had his application for national service (NS) deferment rejected.

As a young track athlete, I am disappointed to hear this. It is an example of how Singapore's longstanding rigidity suffocates local athletes.

Fulham FC is a club in one of the top leagues in the world, the English Premier League, and Ben, a former Singapore Sports School student, had signed a two year contract with them on June 29.

Ben Davis transferred to London's Harrow High School in 2017.

On Jul 15, the Ministry of Defence said that NS deferments are only granted for "those who represent Singapore in international competitions like the Olympic Games and are potential medal winners for Singapore".

The rejection for Ben's NS deferment means that the 17-year-old will have to return in December this year to serve his NS.

Singaporeans have taken to the Internet to air their views, and perhaps this guy sums it up well.

Some local youths feel that sporting achievements are nothing more than a pipe dream.

Some may wonder, what is the big deal? It is just two years of NS, after all.

I know national sprinters who have gone into NS, only to come out losing most of their running technique and form. And for footballers, they may lose two years’ worth of learning game sense and being mentored by more experienced players.

Even before NS, many of us never really have the chance to fully realise our athletic dreams. We had to put sports on the backseat for PSLE, 'O' levels and 'A' levels.

French star player Kylian Mbappe is only 19, an age where most of us enlist for NS. 

For Ben, these two years may be the difference between him playing as a world class player in England's top flight, and him bouncing around in regional leagues like the underfunded S-League.

In the lead up to the World Cup final yesterday, some netizens drew similarities between Singapore and first-time finalist Croatia.

Croatia has a small population of only 4.2 million. In comparison, Singapore has 3.9 million citizens, but ranks a pitiful 169 out of 206 in the FIFA world rankings.

How is it that two countries so close in population fare so differently?

I think our attitude towards sports in Singapore has a lot to do with it.

Sports has always taken a backseat in our society. This is not the first time NS deferment made headlines, and it looks unlikely to be the last.

Look at how local swimmer Joseph Schooling, who is one of three Singaporeans who managed to defer his enlistment for his Olympic pursuits, managed to galvanise the nation with his Olympic heroics in 2016.

Following his win, we now have more pride in our swim team. We enter tournaments with expectations for our swim team to excel, instead of the usual apathy that comes when watching Singaporeans try their hand at sports.

Why deny us an opportunity to be proud of another potential Singaporean sporting icon?