NS deferment to continue, provided conditions are met

Joseph Schooling posing with his gold medal after winning the Rio 2016 Olympic Games men's 100m butterfly final, on August 12.
Joseph Schooling posing with his gold medal after winning the Rio 2016 Olympic Games men's 100m butterfly final, on August 12. ST PHOTO: KEVIN LIM

When swimmer Joseph Schooling was allowed to defer his national service in 2013 to train for the Olympics, that was "based on known conditions" - and if he continues to meet those conditions, the deferment should continue, Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen told reporters last night.

He was answering the question of what Schooling's Olympic gold medal, clinched on Saturday morning, meant for his NS deferment.

Dr Ng noted that he had explained those "known conditions" to Parliament in 2013.

Back then, he had said that NS deferment "may be granted in exceptional circumstances to individual sportsmen, who are assessed to be potential medal winners at international competitions like the Olympic Games and bring national pride for the country".

Individuals will have to show why deferment is necessary for them to train full-time and compete successfully at international competitions, and each case will be assessed individually in consultation with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.

"The conditions have been always quite clear and if sportsmen achieve those conditions we've had no problem in granting (them) deferment," Dr Ng added last night.

Asked whether Schooling would be exempted from NS entirely, however, Dr Ng replied: "I think we should take it a step at a time. Let's see how it unfolds."

Right now, Singapore should focus on congratulating Schooling, he said.

Noting that Parliament will move a motion to congratulate and formally recognise Schooling today, he added: "I think other questions can wait till then."

Dr Ng was speaking on the sidelines of a grassroots event in Toa Payoh Central, where he is an adviser to grassroots organisations.

On Saturday, Minister for Social and Family Development Tan Chuan-Jin touched on Schooling's long-term national service deferment plans and how talks on this would continue with the Ministry of Defence (Mindef).

Speaking to the media in Rio, Mr Tan said: "It's important because for some sports you begin to peak and these are important years."

He added: "We will continue to discuss closely with Mindef and see how that space evolves."

Mr Tan noted: "I wouldn't say that as a result of this there's going to be a change, neither would I say that things will remain static."

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on August 15, 2016, with the headline 'NS deferment to continue, provided conditions are met'. Print Edition | Subscribe