SNOC keen to push for more flexibility for top-performing athletes with NS requirements

The Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) is keen to look at if more flexible solutions can be worked out for national athletes who will be doing their national service (NS). Currently, only swim star Joseph Schooling has successfully earned defe
The Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) is keen to look at if more flexible solutions can be worked out for national athletes who will be doing their national service (NS). Currently, only swim star Joseph Schooling has successfully earned deferment from NS for a longer period.PHOTO: SINGSOC

The Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) is keen to give athletes with the potential to perform on sport's biggest stages a leg up when it comes to doing their national service (NS).

SNOC president Tan Chuan-Jin, making his first comments since the recently-concluded South-east Asia (SEA) Games, has called for a closer working relationship with authorities to explore if more flexible solutions can be worked out for athletes on a case-by-case basis.

In a blog posted on the SNOC website on Monday, he said: "We do not need a blanket agreement. But can we work out local solutions with units? And that might be workable, as they have some flexibility there.

"If the commander feels he can accommodate, he can make the call, why not? So try to explore that and work closely with army units and Home Team and see how to make it more accommodating."

Mr Tan, who is also Minister for Social and Family Development and held the rank of Brigadier-General before joining politics in 2011, said NS cannot be seen as a "non-factor".

He added: "This is something we have to work with Mindef (Ministry of Defence) to allow some level of flexibility... For that to happen, we should try to push the boundaries on that to see what is possible."

Tan questioned if more athletes can successfully obtain deferments from NS.

Currently, only Joseph Schooling, who won nine golds at the SEA Games and whose gold at the 2014 Asiad was a first in 32 years in Singapore men's swimming, has successfully earned deferment for a longer period.

He was due to have enlisted this year, but was granted deferment until end August 2016 to allow him to focus on training for the 2016 Olympics.

It is understood that plans are also afoot to facilitate applying for deferment for fellow swimmer Quah Zheng Wen, the most bemedalled athlete at the SEA Games with 12 medals.

Previously, others such as national long jump record holder Matthew Goh, who requested in 2011 to defer his NS by three months to take part in the Asian and World Junior Athletics Championships, were denied.

The local sports fraternity has for many years argued that compulsory military conscription is an untimely obligation that poses a roadblock for the progress of sportsmen, very often stunting their progress or taking them out of sport altogether.

Countries such as South Korea and Russia face similar issues, but grant long deferments and even waivers to athletes who achieve notable results such as winning an Olympic medal.

With his experience on both the military and sporting sides, Tan feels a close working relationship between both sports administrators and the relevant authorities could provide a better work-around.

He said: "We should constantly have this to-ing and fro-ing with them (authorities) on this. We should try to see whether that space can be expanded somewhat."

maychen@sph.com.sg