Since shutting the door to his career, Bilahari has clearly left diplomacy at the door

Ever since his retirement from official diplomacy, former Ambassador-at-Large Bilahari Kaukisan has become a vocal commentator on just about anything. His latest opus relates to the rejection of teenage footballer Benjamin Davis’s application for deferment of his National Service (NS). In the latest airing of his two cents worth, Kaukisan has opined that Davis’ signing with Fulham Football Club is “no different in principle” from other male Singaporeans” deferment of overseas study or work opportunities.

Despite not being an avid follower of the English Premier League (EPL), I would disagree with Kaukisan’s rather dismissive tome. Firstly, football is a strenuous sport which requires strength and stamina. These are characteristics that are most prominent when one is young. As such, it makes sense to devote time and energies to these pursuits where one is young. Other opportunities which are not of a physical nature can arguably be postponed. In such cases, I would agree that there is no need for NS to be deferred. Given that football is a sport that is largely dominated by the young, I do think there is a very strong case for deferment to be granted.

For instance, if person A is granted an opportunity to study medicine at a prestigious university, this chance will still be just as viable after NS. Your mental capability would not have aged in 2 years and you can always keep your mind agile and active by other activities. In Davis’ case, 2 years in NS will set him back in the international stage as he would have physically lost out 2 years of his youth, stamina and agility. Professional football is not a sport that lasts a lifetime. It has a shelf life, Quite different from a doctor. It therefore makes sense to strike while the iron is hot.

I wonder if forcing males to give up 2 years of their lives have made us all rather uncharitable to others who may not have to. If that is the case, then our anger should be directed at NS and not someone else’s opportunity, Frankly, many detractors are just subconsciously displaying a classic case of “sour grapes”.

Yes, Fulham is not a Singaporean club. But isn’t that what international footballers all do? Cristiano Ronaldo plays for Italian club Juventus but he still plays for Portugal’s national team. Playing for a foreign club doesn’t mean you stop representing your home country? In fact, I would argue that the player would benefit from the training offered by their club to play even better for their country in international competitions.

This is especially the case for Singapore where despite throwing money at training and buying players, we still have not made much headway. Perhaps what we need is for a talented player such as Davis to have the chance to train at an international club to up his game. He could bring back much valuable insight. Look at Fandi Ahmad. Do you not think that his training in The Netherlands upped his game?

I think Baiahari and other critics are confusing club football and nationality. They are also forgetting that some careers are physical in nature where age does count. Added to that is a resentment for NS in general and sensitivity for anyone who may not have to go through the pain of giving up 2 years of their life. If NS were not compulsory, this just wouldn’t be an issue and do we really need NS? That’s another debate but I leave you with that thought.

Since shutting the door to his career, Bilahari has clearly left diplomacy at the door.