The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said yesterday that it rejected footballer Ben Davis' deferment request because there was no intention by the family to ensure that the 17-year-old will fulfil his national service (NS) duties.
But the teen's father, Mr Harvey Davis, disputed this, saying in a statement he agrees "100 per cent that Ben should do his national service... The only question is timing".
Mindef, in replying to media queries, explained that "when asked during the deferment application process when Mr Davis intended to return and serve NS, Mr Davis' father would not commit to a date and expressed that he would put Mr Davis' professional career first".
It had on June 11 told the Davis family that the deferment request was rejected. On June 29, Ben inked a two-year professional contract with Fulham FC, becoming the first Singaporean to sign a deal with an English Premier League club. He is due to return to enlist in December.
This suggested to Mindef that "Mr Davis' actions are meant to further his own professional career, not national interest. As his father openly admitted, he is looking out for his son's future, not Singapore's".
"They have no intention of returning to fulfil their son's NS duties, especially if Mr Davis is given a full professional contract after the two years of his senior contract," said Mindef. "To allow deferment for this type of appeal would severely undermine the ethos and sacrifice of Singaporeans who have all put aside their personal interests to complete their NS duties."
Under the Enlistment Act, all male Singapore citizens and permanent residents are liable to serve national service (NS) upon reaching 18. Mindef allows students to attain educational qualifications up to GCE A levels, a polytechnic diploma or their equivalent before they are required to serve NS.
They are enlisted at the earliest opportunity when they have finished such courses, or after turning 18, whichever is later. Deferment is granted to allow pre-enlistees to complete their pre-tertiary education and not to commence their professional career. Mindef does not grant deferment for university studies.
DEFERMENT FOR EXCEPTIONAL TALENTS
Deferments are considered very selectively and only for exceptional talents in sports, the arts and other areas. In granting deferment, Mindef considers the individual's potential to win medals at top-tier international competitions such as the Olympic Games.
Individuals will have to show why deferment is necessary for them to train full-time and compete successfully at international competitions. Each case will be assessed individually in consultation with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth. Individuals granted deferment will still have to serve NS after their deferment period.
NS disruption is granted for the following groups:
• Full-time national servicemen (NSFs) who are enlisted later in the year to enable them to embark on university studies at the same time as their same-age peers with equivalent educational qualifications.
• NSFs who pursue local medical degrees and are selected for the Local Medical Disruption Scheme, as the Singapore Armed Forces has an operational need for doctors.
• NSFs who are Public Service Commission (PSC) scholarship holders as the PSC scholarship is an important conduit for bringing talent into the public service, to serve the people of Singapore through public service.
In response, Mr Harvey Davis, whose eldest son William had already completed NS, said he had worked through the Football Association of Singapore, Sport Singapore (SportSG) and the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) over Ben's deferment, but had not met anyone from Mindef. Ben has a younger brother, Jai.
Mr Davis said: "In my discussions with SportSG and MCCY, I was clear that Ben should do his NS, but the question is just when. This point was reiterated in an e-mail response which was sent to MCCY on May 15, 2018."
He added: "I agree 100 per cent that Ben should do his national service... The only question is timing as we would like to give him the best opportunity to play at the highest possible professional level in the UK and Europe. If Ben does not get a renewed contract or new contract by May 2020, then he should return to serve his NS."
He noted that in the e-mail to MCCY, he explained that they were unable to commit to a date for Ben's return as there was a possibility the midfielder could be offered a new two-year contract next year "or that he could be sent out on loan or sold to another club".
He added: "As I have stated in my e-mail to MCCY on May 15, 2018, Ben will return to Singapore and serve his national service if he doesn't get an extension of the current two-year contract."
Mindef said it recognises Ben's achievement, but said "deferment from NS is granted for exceptional sportsmen to represent our national interest and not their own career development".
Only three athletes - Joseph Schooling, Quah Zheng Wen and Maximilian Soh - have met the deferment criteria in the past 15 years.
Mindef noted that there were programmes in place to help national athletes continue training while serving their NS.
"Many talented sportsmen, including footballers, have completed their NS dutifully first before pursuing their professional careers. Mindef has in place schemes during full-time NS to enable them to continue training to retain and improve their skills," it said. "We also provide additional training opportunities in the lead-up to major games such as the South-east Asian and Olympic Games where our sportsmen represent Singapore and do us proud."
National sports agency SportSG last night reiterated its support for Mindef's decision, and said it will work with national sports associations "to ensure that there are specific whole team strategies that would enable more coherent support to be delivered".
Olympic champion Schooling empathised with Ben, and said: "It is definitely a difficult situation for him. But my advice to him would be to follow his heart, do what he needs to do. Obviously, I come from a different sport, I was in a different situation. I can't advise him on what to do. He should get together with his parents, decide what is the best plan for himself and go from there."