The rejection of rising football star Benjamin Davis’s application to defer his National Service (NS) term by the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) will not only place the brakes on the youngster’s personal dreams, but also the hope of “thousands of Singaporeans” who dream of witnessing Singapore’s glory days in football, especially on an international level, said local technopreneur, Hazrul Azhar Jamari.
In a Facebook post dated 15 July, he wrote: “Not every Singaporean boy wants to be a footballer and has such a chance to play in the Premier League. That is a unique situation and deserves to be reviewed at a case-by-case level.”
He added: “According to FIFA rules, Ben qualifies to play for the following countries: Singapore (by citizenship), Thailand (by birth and heritage through his mother), England (by heritage through his father).”
“Ben has been playing for Singapore age groups since U14 levels. But Ben could have played for Thailand and England. This should speak for something. He could be playing for better and stronger countries but he is choosing Singapore.”
He said that even if the deferment was granted to Davis, it will not be out of the norm in terms of the average age range to serve and complete NS.
“By the time he completes it [NS], he would be about 19 or 20. This sounds like the enlistment age for many Singaporeans anyway. So what is MINDEF babbling about?”
Hazrul also rejected the argument that Davis’ signing with Fulham is not exceptional enough to grant him an exemption, as it is not generally viewed to be on the same league and level of achievement as that of an Olympic medallist, such as that of national swimmer, Joseph Schooling, who is also Singapore’s first gold medallist for swimming in the Olympics:
“This may not be the Olympics. Nor will Fulham do a Leicester and win the Premier League. But to say he is not representing Singapore is wrong. Ben is Singaporean and he is flying our flag high in England. And if he makes it to the first team, that should be worth as much as an Olympic medal.”
“The problem is that MINDEF is not contextualising his case. Football is not Swimming. It is a team sport and the Olympics is not the highest achievement in Football. But to be able to play at the highest possible standard is. And for us arm chair Premier League fans, the Premier League is the highest standard there is,” he wrote.
Hazrul also said that “Ben is not asking to be exempted. He is asking to be deferred,” which means that Davis will still serve the nation, just on a later date, suggesting that MINDEF and Singapore will not lose anything in the long run if Davis was granted the deferment.
He warns that if MINDEF “continues with its rigid and archaic policies”, then “this country’s thirst to take the dreams of boys and send them to war”, fighting uncertain threats, that will contribute to the demise of the potential in young footballers such as Davis, and not “some mismanagement of FAS [Football Association of Singapore]”.
He concluded with a strong comparison to the Korean nations, in which the South Korean government are flexible enough to grant deferments to thei national servicemen despite constantly being under the looming threat of North Korea, and thus illustrating how he believes that Davis’ deferment is within reason and practicality.
Ending his note, he wrote: “South Korea has North Korea at their doorsteps and their footballing heroes are granted 10 year deferments. Ben is only asking for 2.”
In a statement on 15 July, MINDEF announced that Davis’ application for NS deferment was not approved, as he “does not meet the criteria for long-term deferment from full-time NS”.
“As all male Singaporeans liable for full-time NS put aside personal pursuits to dutifully enlist and serve their NS, it would not be fair to approve applications for deferment for individuals to pursue their own careers and development.
“Very few applications have been approved over the years and based on criteria which are made known to the public.
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,” MINDEF explained.
The decision was made in consultation with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth, according to MINDEF.
Davis and his parents were informed regarding the decision on 11 Jun.
“Mr Davis was also notified that he is due for enlistment and must dutifully serve NS along with others in his cohort,” said MINDEF.