Football: Deferment appeal will be rejected if no new facts, says Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How

Teen footballer Ben Davis, who has signed a professional contract with Fulham, must return to Singapore in December if his appeal is rejected.
Teen footballer Ben Davis, who has signed a professional contract with Fulham, must return to Singapore in December if his appeal is rejected.PHOTO: FULHAM FC

In the absence of new facts, the Ministry of Defence (Mindef) will likely reject an appeal by teenage footballer Ben Davis to defer his national service after he signed a professional deal with English Premier League club Fulham.

Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How, speaking during a visit to Tuas Naval Base yesterday, said: "All applications, all appeals have to be based on facts, and we will have to evaluate the facts. And if the facts are no different, then our position will be consistent.

"On the subject of deferment, the criteria that Mindef uses to assess applications have been transparent and have been consistent over time, so there is no movement of the goal posts on the part of Mindef or the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces)."

Mr Harvey Davis, Ben's father, said the family "will be working with the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) over the appeal for deferment", and declined to comment further. If the appeal is rejected, Ben will have to return in December, a month after his 18th birthday.

In a statement sent late last night, the FAS said it "believes that this is one such case which merits serious consideration even within Mindef's current framework", and it "understands the concerns around exceptions but believes that a balance can be struck between player development and national service obligations in this unique case".

It added that "any deferment cannot be open-ended..." and it will propose a framework of KPIs and milestones for the deferment.

Ben was born in Thailand and moved here with his family at age five. He became a Singapore citizen in 2009, and according to rules of world football governing body Fifa, he will be eligible to play for both England and Thailand as his father is of English descent and his mother is Thai. He has represented Singapore in national youth squads, most recently the Under-19 team, and was called up to the senior national team earlier this year, but did not play.

 
 
 

His father, who is Singaporean, said on Monday: "Giving up the Singaporean citizenship is not something we want to consider. (But) at the end of the day, as a parent, I have to do what is best for my son."

Ben studied at the Singapore Sports School from 2013 to 2015, and moved to Harrow High School in London in 2016. In July last year, Fulham signed him on a two-year scholarship. He signed a two-year professional contract on June 29, 18 days after Mindef informed his family that his deferment request was denied.

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

Nominated MP Ganesh Rajaram noted that Mindef has been fair in its treatment and has assessed Ben's case on its own merits, while balancing the nation's needs. "NS is sacred to Singapore. It has always been there, and it will always be there."

The larger issue was the lack of effective youth development by FAS here, he said. "Ben is just one player, and even if he is deferred, he will come back to an ecosystem that will not be able to achieve anything - we must look at football in its entirety."

Former Home United coach Philippe Aw sympathised with Ben, and said the period from age 16 to 20 was make or break for footballers, noting: "That is when players go from youth players to making the step up to senior elite football - it is crucial for their development."

Mr Heng said the Government wants to value every Singaporean and develop the country's talent. "But... we must also remember that the purpose for all this development is that we have a country and all of us actually have a duty to one another and this country," he said.

"So, we have got to make a good balance between our duty to this country and also our very genuine urge to enable everybody to reach their highest potential."

• Additional reporting by Deepanraj Ganesan

SEE FORUM

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 18, 2018, with the headline 'Mindef likely to reject teen's deferment appeal in absence of new facts'. Print Edition | Subscribe