It doesn’t seem like the “defer or not defer” saga in relation to young footballer, Ben Davis’ request to defer his National Service (NS) is going to die down any time soon. While the Davis family has launched an appeal, the Ministry of Defense (Mindef) appears to remain resolute, standing by its initial rejection. Singaporeans on the other hand have taken to social media in support Ben Davis.
I have no doubt that Mindef has legal grounds to reject Davis’ request for deferment by a rigid application of the current deferment requirements. The question is whether in our bid to follow the rules, we have ditched common sense. Instead of hiding behind rules and regulations, Mindef needs to examine what the intention behind the rules are. Is this criteria meant to hold back talented people such as Ben Davis?
I wonder if Mindef has been so bogged down by rules and regulations that its failed to see why the rules were formulated in the first place?
Secondly, we need to remember that rules and regulations are never static. They need to be updated and refreshed when situations change. Perhaps these rules were formed at at time when no one thought it was possible that a Singaporean could ever play for a world famous football club and as such, no one ever thought to include it in Mindef’s deferment rules. It is unfortunate for Ben therefore to be the pioneer.
I note also that there appears to be leeway for scholars to defer NS. While I have no doubt that the scholars are bright sparks, I don’t see the logic of prioritising them over sportsmen. No one likes to give up 2 years of their life but we have to remember that unlike sportsmen, the careers of scholars are not limited by time. What then is the logic of allowing scholars to defer NS while denying a sportsman the same privilege?
The career of a football player is not long. It could well be over in his early 30s. Ben can easily serve his NS then. This is on the assumption that Ben even goes further in his career. In the arena of competitive football, there is no guarantee. Ben could well be back in 2 years to serve his NS. There’s just no logic to denying him his dreams over NS.
I think that Ben’s deferment should be granted for the following practical reasons:
1.Allowing Ben to defer will not open the floodgates of deferment if that is Mindef’s fear because it is extremely difficult to get as far as Ben has in the first place.
3. Mindef already has a policy of permitting deferments for sportsmen. The only difference is that Ben is playing for a club and not for the national team. I think this is an oversight as no one had thought it possible that a Singaporean would qualify for an international club at the time the rules were made. Football is a team sport. The only way a Singaporean player can gain experience and exposure is through playing in an international club. All famous footballers have done this. To deny him the chance because of a rigid way of reading the rules is counterproductive to Singapore’s sporting goals as a country.
4. We should support our citizens in their endeavours. Withholding support on the assumption that he will not serve NS is petty and shows a disregard for the ambitions of our young citizens.
5. Ben can always serve NS after his professional career ends.
6. Ben is not likely to abscond if he is successful because if he is successful, he will be a big star and his avoidance of NS will generate press pressure.
7. Ben is not likely to abscond because his family is in Singapore.
8. Even if Ben does abscond, what practical difference does it really make to Mindef?
10. Even if Ben has personal ambitions, so what? Why can’t his personal ambitions also benefit Singapore?
I rest my case.