SINGAPORE - Olympic champion Joseph Schooling said he empathises with the situation that Ben Davis finds himself in, but the 23-year-old hopes that the Fulham midfielder will continue to dream.
"It's definitely a difficult situation for him. But my advice to him would be to follow his dreams, follow his heart, do what he needs to do," said Schooling, at the sidelines of the Singapore Sports Awards on Wednesday (July 18) night, where he was crowned Sportsman of the Year for a record fifth time.
"Obviously I come from a different sport, I was in different situation. I can't advise him on what to do. He should get together with his parents, decide what's the best plan for himself and go from there."
Schooling is one of only three athletes who have received long term National Service (NS) deferment - along with fellow swimmer Quah Zheng Wen, both given NS deferment to compete at the 2016 Olympics and again for the 2020 Games in Tokyo.
The other was sailor Maximillian Soh, who was granted a year-long deferment in 2007 for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Schooling struck Olympic gold in the 100m butterfly at the Rio Olympics.
The 17-year-old Davis signed a professional contract with Fulham on June 29, after he was informed by the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) on June 11 that his request for deferment was rejected. He is due to return to enlist in December.
Davis was born in Thailand to an English father and Thai mother before moving to Singapore with his family when he was five. He became a Singapore citizen in 2009. But according to rules of world football governing body, Fifa, he will be eligible to play for both England and Thailand.
Davis was called up to the Singapore national team by former national coach V Sundram Moorthy earlier this year, but did not take to the field.
Davis' deferment issue has become a hot topic of discussion in the online space, with the BBC also reporting on the matter. An online petition has been set up on www.change.org garnering some 18,000 signatures on Monday evening.
"It was tough not only for me, but my family. I can only speak for myself: I only know what my family went through, what I went through," said Schooling of his experience in the initial quest for deferment.
"Everyone wants to do the right thing. For me, I was very happy to have had a good support system. People coming in to help my family so I could achieve my dreams, my goals," said Schooling, who will compete in August's Asian Games in Indonesia.
"And I'm very fortunate to have Mindef, Ministry of Culture, Community & Youth (MCCY), Singapore Swimming Association (SSA) come back me up. Ultimately I achieved my goal, so I'm very lucky in that aspect," he said.
"I feel bad, I empathise with him. Only he knows what he can do, what should do - that's between Mindef, the MCCY, and his family - the three of them."