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 newly-promoted English Premier League club Fulham on June 29.
The Ministry of Defence said in a statement on Saturday the application for deferment was rejected as Davis "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".
It said all male citizens liable for full-time NS, at the earliest opportunity once they turn 18, must enlist and it "would not be fair to approve applications for deferment for individuals to pursue their own careers and development".
It added: "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."
The three were swimmers Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen, both given NS deferment to compete at the 2016 Olympics and again for the 2020 Games in Tokyo, and sailor Maximilian Soh, who was granted a year-long deferment in 2007 for the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
Davis' father, Harvey, told The Straits Times that he will be submitting an appeal for his 17-year-old son, the first Singaporean to sign a pro contract with an EPL club.
"We fully understand the importance of serving your country. My older son has already served and so will Ben, as will my younger boy," said Davis Sr. "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."
The Football Association of Singapore's general manager of youth development, Varatha Rajan, said it had supported Ben's application for deferment. He noted: "His path also illustrates to aspiring talented players in Singapore that football can be a viable career to pursue."
An online petition drew 1,000 signatures by 10.15pm last night.