Football: Fulham player Ben Davis defaults on national service commitments

Mindef said that Ben Davis is a national service defaulter who is staying overseas without a valid exit permit. PHOTO: FULHAM FC

SINGAPORE - Footballer Ben Davis has defaulted on his national service commitments, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said in a statement on Monday (Feb 18).

In response to queries from The Straits Times, Mindef said: "Mr Benjamin Davis is a NS defaulter. He failed to report for NS as required. He is also staying overseas without a valid exit permit.

"Mr Davis has committed offences under the Enlistment Act, and is liable upon conviction to a fine of up to $10,000 and/or imprisonment of up to 3 years."

ST understands that Davis was required to enlist on Feb 14.

The Phuket-born 18-year-old had signed professional terms with English Premier League club Fulham in July last year, the first Singaporean footballer to do so with a top-tier English club.

A former student at the Singapore Sports School, he left the Republic in 2015 to move to London to join Fulham's academy, where he is registered as an English national.

However, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS), which had supported Davis' application for deferment, expressed its dismay at the news and issued a strongly worded admonition of the player, whom it capped at the Under-19 level. Davis was also called up to the senior national team last year but was not fielded.

A spokesman said: "The FAS is extremely disappointed with Mr Benjamin Davis' default of his NS obligations. It is thoroughly irresponsible on the part of Mr Davis, and also reneges on his (and his father's) assurance to the FAS that Mr Davis would discharge his NS commitments and play for the Singapore national team.

"Mr Davis had lived in Singapore for many years, and has benefited from the resources used to educate and train him as a footballer over this period of time. He was invited to play for the Singapore national team, and he agreed.

"The FAS had supported Benjamin Davis' application to defer NS on this basis.

"While the matter will now be dealt with by Mindef, the FAS wishes to state categorically that we do not condone such conduct nor did it ever arise in our discussions with Mr Davis that he would seek to avoid his liability."

Davis was born in Thailand to an English father and Thai mother.

After he signed pro terms last year, Mindef confirmed that his application for NS deferment had been rejected as he did not "meet the criteria for long-term deferment from full-time NS".

The decision sparked a debate among the sporting fraternity and the general public about issues such as maximising sporting talent and the need to maintain Singapore's security.

A month later in Parliament, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen laid out the reasons for the rejection, highlighting that "there was no commitment to serve Singapore and our national interests" despite Harvey Davis' contention that if Ben were to become the first Singaporean to play in the EPL, it would "make Singapore proud".

Dr Ng reiterated that "deferment... cannot be for that individual, no matter how talented, to pursue his own interests or career, even if it vicariously brings credit or fame to Singapore".

He also noted that Harvey Davis had "consistently refused" to pin down a date when Ben would return to serve NS.

Mindef has also noted that there are 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 last July.

"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."

In the last 15 years, only three athletes - swimmers Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen, and sailor Maximillian Soh - have been granted deferment. Schooling and Quah have represented the Republic at various Olympics, with the former making history by winning a gold medal in the 100m butterfly at the 2016 Rio Games.

While Davis had a strong start in his first season with the Fulham U-18 team - he scored once in 10 games, making 13 tackles and 16 interceptions while racking up a pass accuracy of 90 per cent - ST understands he has found the going tougher in his sophomore season.

A source, who did not want to be named, said that Davis' performance was adversely affected after news emerged that his application for NS deferment had been rejected.

While he started 12 of Fulham U-18s' first 14 matches of the season, he has played only 136 out of a possible 630 minutes in their last seven games. He also earned the call-up to the Under-21 team for four games, but was an unused substitute on each of those occasions.

Based on a sentencing framework introduced by the High Court in July 2017, there are four bands of sentencing based on the length of the period of default:
- For those who evade NS for two to six years, the starting point is two to four months' jail
- For seven to 10 years, the starting point is five to eight months' jail
- For 11 to 16 years, the starting point is 14 to 22 months' jail
- For 17 to 23 years or more, the starting point is two to three years' jail.

NS defaulters who are still under the age of 40 are still required to serve if they return.

A defaulter's sentence may be discounted based on various factors, such as the length of period of default, how substantial his connection to Singapore is, whether he voluntarily surrendered or was arrested, and whether he pleaded guilty or claimed trial.

Correction note: This article has been updated to reflect the four-band sentencing based on the length of the period of NS default.

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