SINGAPORE - Teenage footballer Ben Davis will have to return to Singapore in December to enlist for full-time National Service (NS), despite having signed a professional contract with English Premier League (EPL) club Fulham on June 29.
This comes after the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) confirmed that his application for NS deferment had been rejected.
"Benjamin James Davis' application for deferment was not approved as he does not meet the criteria for long-term deferment from full-time NS. This decision was made in consultation with the Ministry of Culture, Community & Youth, and was communicated to Mr Davis and his parents on 11 June 2018," Mindef said in a statement on Saturday (July 14).
Mindef explained that all male Singaporeans liable for full-time NS, at the earliest opportunity once they turn 18, have to put aside personal pursuits to enlist and serve, hence it "would not be fair to approve applications for deferment for individuals to pursue their own careers and development".
"In sports, deferments are granted only to those who represent Singapore in international competitions like the Olympic Games and are potential medal winners for Singapore. In the last 15 years, only three have met this criteria," it added.
Singapore's first Olympic gold medallist Joseph Schooling and fellow swimmer Quah Zheng Wen were given NS deferment to compete at the 2016 Olympics and again for the 2020 Games in Tokyo. Sailor Maximillian Soh was the other athlete who was granted a year-long deferment in 2007 to compete at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing.
Reiterating that its policy has been "applied strictly and fairly to all individuals", the Mindef statement added: "Mr Davis was also notified that he is due for enlistment and must dutifully serve NS along with others in his cohort."
Davis' father Harvey told The Straits Times that he will be submitting an appeal for his son, who earned a pro contract just one year into the two-year scholarship. Ben, 17, is the first Singaporean to sign a pro contract with an EPL club.
"We have been completely transparent with the authorities who were immediately informed of his scholarship contract back in 2016 and his professional contract back in May this year," said Davis Sr.
"We fully understand the importance of serving your country. My older son has already served and so will Ben, as will my younger boy.
"With Ben, the question is when (he will serve), and we hope he is given the opportunity to pursue his dream, make Singapore and Singapore football proud."
He asserted that while this Mindef decision affects his son directly, it also has wider implications.
"As a Singaporean it asks the question as to what exactly is the criteria needed for a young, talented sportsperson to pursue an international sporting career in a team sport outside of Singapore," he added.
In response to ST's queries, the Football Association of Singapore's general manager of youth development, Varatha Rajan said that it had supported Ben's application for deferment.
"Training and playing in an environment like Fulham would be a boost for Benjamin Davis' development as a player," he explained. "His path also illustrates to aspiring talented players in Singapore that football can be a viable career to pursue."