Ben Davis, together with his father Harvey, signing a two-year scholarship with English side Fulham. (Photo: Fulham FC)

Fulham teen to play for Thailand amid Singapore conscription row

Singapore’s first English Premier League footballer looks set to play for Thailand in the Southeast Asian Games, after the city-state warned he could face jail for skipping national service.

Ben Davis signed a two-year deal with Fulham last year at the age of 17, but Singapore’s government refused to allow him to defer mandatory national service.

He will join Thailand’s under-23 squad for the Southeast Asian Games, in the Philippines in November and December, according to a provisional squad list posted by the Football Association of Thailand on its website.

Davis had previously represented Singapore at the under-16 and under-18 levels.

While he is a Singapore citizen, local media reported he was born on the Thai holiday island of Phuket to a Thai mother and a British father and only moved to the city-state aged five.

All Singaporean men aged 18 must serve two years in the military, the police or the emergency services, an obligation authorities rarely let people skip.

The defence ministry warned earlier this year that Davis could face up to three years in jail if convicted of violating the enlistment act.

He could also face a fine of up to Sg$10,000 ($7,200).

The ministry said Davis did not meet the criteria to skip national service when it refused his application to defer it last year.

The refusal to allow Davis to miss national service fuelled a debate about whether the conscription system is too strict in the city-state, where the Premier League is hugely popular.

In the past 15 years, only three athletes, including Olympic champion swimmer Joseph Schooling, have been given permission to miss national service, according to the Straits Times newspaper.

The biennial Southeast Asian Games is a multi-sport tournament attended by thousands of athletes from around the region.

– AFP