If poly and JC students are allowed to defer, why not Davis?

Despite being the first Singaporean to sign a professional contract with an English football club, Ben Davis' request to defer national service has been denied, with the rationale that he is not a potential medal winner for Singapore in international competitions (No NS deferment for Davis: Mindef; July 16).

While NS is an important rite of passage for Singaporean men and exemptions cannot be granted willy-nilly, this decision does more harm than good and ought to be reconsidered.

Davis is not asking to skip NS altogether, but only to push back the date to begin serving.

This is the same deferment that the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) grants students who need extra time to complete their polytechnic diplomas or A levels.

If we allow students to defer NS to finish their education, why deny Davis the chance to complete his apprenticeship with masters of the craft?

Mindef's rationale for the decision is clear and consistent, but it is too short-sighted. Davis may not be winning any medals yet, but he can bring home expertise from a top-tier club in the birthplace of the sport.

Singapore has always believed in learning from and emulating the best in the world; football should be no exception.

The know-how and personal examples that Davis will bring could reinvigorate the Singaporean football scene.

A two-year hiatus for any endeavour creates loss of momentum - one's skills fall into disrepair while one's peers are honing their abilities and moving forward.

This is especially significant for athletes, where the physical decline with age means that their careers necessarily peak early - the two years spent in NS while Davis is still making his name in the sport can therefore make or break his career.

If we reward talent, discipline and hard work by hindering and possibly crippling his dreams, the message we are sending to others aspiring to top their fields is: "Don't bother."

Football is close to many Singaporean hearts, even more so than swimming, and yet many locals felt a great surge of national pride as Joseph Schooling won our first Olympic gold medal.

How much more pride will we have to see a Singaporean playing competitively on the international stage, even if we cannot overtly quantify his achievement through medals?

Parliament gave Schooling a standing ovation. All Mindef needs to give Davis is a chance.

Wang Xing Hao

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2018, with the headline 'If poly and JC students are allowed to defer, why not Davis?'. Print Edition | Subscribe