Achieving sporting glory, serving NS not incompatible

National service is a rite of passage for anyone who considers himself a true Singaporean man - and who wants to be accepted by other Singaporeans.

The question of Joseph Schooling's deferment from national service has arisen again, and he has been given another deferment ("Joseph Schooling's NS deferred till after 2020 Olympics"; ST Online, yesterday).

The twin aims of achieving sporting glory and doing national service are not incompatible.

More than 40 years ago, when I was in NS, and later on during my reservist training, the Singapore Armed Forces had a system for grooming sportsmen.

There were soldiers who, after being taught basic military skills, switched to training in sports almost full time.

I wonder what has happened to this system.

Now, we have to put more thought and exercise more flexibility in creating something that will achieve both targets.

For a start, I disagree that training schedules cannot be broken to take time off for six months of basic military training.

For a good athlete, a six-month break between the ages of 18 and perhaps 25 would not be the end of the world.

Besides, basic military training does keep a person in good physical shape.

For what happens after that, I suggest that sports training in a properly controlled environment, whether in Singapore or abroad, be considered part of national service, as I believe it once was.

There are many other countries that enlist soldiers and pay them well to primarily train in selected sports.

Singapore should consider doing this. Hopefully, we can groom home-grown sporting talent whose victories will unite rather than divide our nation.

Lee Chiu San

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 16, 2016, with the headline 'Achieving sporting glory, serving NS not incompatible'. Print Edition | Subscribe