Mindef says Ben Davis' family had no intention of him serving NS but boy's father disputes this

Mindef also revealed that teenage footballer Ben Davis signed the professional contract with Fulham despite knowing that his application for NS deferment had been rejected.
Mindef also revealed that teenage footballer Ben Davis signed the professional contract with Fulham despite knowing that his application for NS deferment had been rejected. PHOTO: FULHAM FC

SINGAPORE - The Davis' family had no intention of seeing that 17-year-old footballer Ben fulfils his National Service (NS) duties, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) said on Wednesday (July 18) as it explained its decision to reject the deferment request.

Mindef came to this conclusion based on the application process in which Harvey, father of Ben, "would not commit to a date" on when his son would return to Singapore to serve his NS and subsequent remarks to the media made by the senior Davis that he would encourage his son "to renounce his Singapore citizenship in order to pursue his career".

In response to Mindef's statement, Harvey said the family had suggested possible dates in an e-mail on May 15, 2018, to the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) for Ben's return to serve NS and they were fully committed to Ben doing his NS.

In its response to media queries, Mindef noted: "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.

"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."

Mindef had informed the Davis family that the deferment request was rejected on June 11. On June 29, Ben signed a two-year professional contract with Fulham FC, becoming the first Singaporean to pen a deal with an English Premier League club.

Mindef highlighted this and said: "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.

"Mr Davis went on to sign the contract despite the rejection for deferment and his father has publicly stated that he would encourage Mr Davis to renounce his Singapore citizenship in order to pursue his career."

Harvey, who was a British national before taking up Singaporean citizenship, said he had worked through the Football Association of Singapore, Sport Singapore (SportSG) and MCCY over Ben's deferment and had not met anyone from Mindef.

He 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 15 May 2018. In that e-mail, I had said very clearly that while renunciation was an option, it "is "NOT" Ben's intention at all as he would like to represent Singapore."

His eldest son William had already completed NS and Harvey said "I agree 100 per cent that Ben should do his National Service... both Ben and his younger brother Jai will also complete their NS. The only question is timing for Ben 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 explained that the family were unable to commit to a date for Ben's return as there was a possibility Ben could be offered a new two-year contract in 2019 "or that he could be sent out on loan or sold to another club."

He also noted: "As I've stated in my email to MCCY on 15 May 2018, Ben will return to Singapore and serve his National Service if he doesn't get an extension of the current 2 year-contract."

Mindef had said that while it "recognises Mr. Benjamin Davis' achievement in securing a senior contract with Fulham Football Club", it stressed that "deferment from National Service (NS) is granted for exceptional sportsmen to represent our national interest and not their own career development.

"When granted, deferment is given for a defined period after which these sportsmen must return to fulfil their NS duties. Mr Davis' application does not meet the deferment criteria and was therefore turned down."

It added 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.

"We also provide additional training opportunities in the lead-up to major games such as the Southeast Asian and Olympic Games where our sportsmen represent Singapore and do us proud."

Only three athletes - Joseph Schooling, Quah Zheng Wen and Maximilian Soh - have met the deferment criteria in the past 15 years.

Later on Wednesday, national agency Sport Singapore reiterated its support for Mindef's decision.

It said: "Definitive commitment to return to serve NS at a specified date has to be paramount for deferment applications. In this case, MCCY and SportSG had earlier engaged the Davis family, where we had communicated to the family the importance of making that commitment.

"As they were unable to give the commitment, SportSG supports Mindef's decision to reject the application.

"We recognise that the sport of football has the ability to rally and inspire Singaporeans, as with many other team sports. SportSG will work with our NSAs (national sports associations) to ensure that there are specific whole team strategies that would enable more coherent support to be delivered.

"In this regard, we would want to work with Mindef to realise our aspirations for our national football teams."

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.