In a press release dated 17 July, the Football Association of Singapore (FAS) have declared their strong support for midfielder Benjamin Davis’ request to MINDEF to defer his National Service (NS) obligations.
FAS explained the reason for their support: “At age 17, Benjamin has been given a contract to play football at a professional level with Fulham FC, in the English Premier League, and we believe that the support for a Singaporean to play at the highest level will have benefits to the community and nation.”
While the FAS does not deny the “universal” obligation for male Singaporeans, particularly of Davis’ age, to carry out their NS duties due to its “vital importance” to the nation, hence the rarity of exceptions granted by MINDEF throughout the years, the association has also urged MINDEF to take “a balanced approach” that will “promote and enhance burgeoning talent without […] compromising the integrity of the national service agenda”.
The FAS emphasised that “This will be the first time a Singaporean has been offered a professional contract by a club from one of the top six leagues in the world.
The association believes that Davis’ signing with Fulham Football Club, a club that has recently been promoted to the English Premier League, is not only reflective of Singaporean professional footballers “to rise to the top of the profession”, but also “a recognition of the local coaching and development framework” under which Davis’ talent has flourished.
The FAS added that Davis’ signing is “consistent with the FAS’ objective of having our best players develop […] in a more challenging environment” and then “to return to Singapore to impart that value-added experience”, which they believe will aid greatly in the process of improving the performance of the Singapore national team.
The recent rule change to include more young players in the Singapore Premier League aims to “accelerate” their development, added the Association.
“We hope that weight can be given to the above, and to the prospect of leveraging on Benjamin’s trailblazing move to motivate and inspire local talent.”
“We also believe that any deferment cannot be open-ended, and that any deferment has to be matched with an assurance to see through Benjamin’s national service obligations and a commitment to use this opportunity to enhance the development of national football,” said FAS.
In the press release, the FAS have also stated their willingness to assist Davis and his family in a bid to “persuade” MINDEF to accept the merits of his application, as well as to “assuage MINDEF’s concerns” over his NS obligations.
On the whole, the FAS believes that “a balance can be struck between player development and national service obligations”, reiterating that Davis’ case is a “unique” one.
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.