Netizens rebuke TODAY’s commentary piece that calls into question Olympian Joseph Schooling’s long-term NS deferment

Netizens rebuke TODAY’s commentary piece that calls into question Olympian Joseph Schooling’s long-term NS deferment

Olympic champion Joseph Schooling’s “lackadaisical performances” in the last two to three years call into question whether there is “strong merit” in extending his long-term National Service (NS) deferment, said Eugene Tan Kheng Boon in a commentary piece published by TODAY on Tuesday (3 Aug).

Schooling failed to defend his gold medal in the 100m butterfly event at the Tokyo Olympics on 29 July, as he finished last in his heat after clocking a time of 53.12s, placing him 44th overall out of 55.

Just days after his exit from the Olympics, TODAY published a commentary piece penned by Mr Tan, an Associate Professor of Law at Singapore Management University, who was the team manager of Singapore’s 2004 Athens Olympics national swim team.

In his piece, Mr Tan, who is also a former Nominated Member of Parliament (NMP), highlighted that the young athlete has been on long-term NS deferment since 2014, adding that Schooling also receives a stipend of at least S$8,400 monthly by being in the top band of SportSG’s spexScholarship programme.

He explained that long-term NS deferment has only been granted to three sportsmen in the last two decades — Schooling, swimmer Quah Zheng Wen, and sailor Maximilian Soh — on account of their “world-class sporting prowess” and potential to perform well on the world stage.

Mr Tan observed that the “telltale signs” of Schooling’s downward trajectory were starting to show after he defended his title in the 2018 Asian Games, especially when Schooling failed to qualify for the 100m butterfly semi-finals at the World Championships in South Korea 2019.

Schooling “did not look in the best physical shape” during the 2019 SEA Games, he said, citing national training centre head coach Gary Tan who had previously commented that the athlete might need to “work towards getting fitter”.

Given the Olympian’s recent exit in the Tokyo Olympics, Mr Tan noted that it now comes to the Ministry of Defence’s (Mindef) decision on whether to extend Schooling’s NS deferment, and if so, for how long.

“Mindef has consistently, and rightly so, indicated that it grants deferment to an individual if his deferment serves Singapore’s national interest first and foremost.

“Thus, the question is whether there is strong merit in extending Schooling’s long-term NS deferment, notwithstanding his lackadaisical performances in the pool in the last two to three years,” he wrote.

The principle of “equity-equality of treatment” must be stringently upheld “without fear or favour” when it comes to the application of NS long-term deferment, said Mr Tan, adding that Schooling has also indicated on several occasions that “he is ready to enlist if he is not deferred”.

Citing Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen’s statement in 2018, he asserted that clear expectations were laid out for a sportsman when deferment was given, including on the standards required for their sports training.

This means that deferment would be curtailed in the events that a sportsman failed to meet the standards agreed upon, said Mr Tan.

“Schooling and his stakeholders will have to look ahead now and determine the best path forward,” he added.

Nevertheless, Mr Tan noted that Schooling could be granted an additional one-year deferment in the first instance to enable him to prepare for the 2022 World Championships and Asian Games.

“It is a packed swimming calendar in 2022, with the SEA Games also likely in April/May and the Commonwealth Games in July.

“If he redeems himself next year and demonstrates that he is back in serious reckoning, then another extension for the 2024 Paris Olympics could perhaps be justified. By then, he would have deferred NS for about 10 years,” he wrote.

Netizens back Joseph Schooling saying that he has “done more national service” than everyone else

Over on social media, many netizens rebuked the commentary piece for calling into question the Olympian’s long-term NS deferment, noting that Schooling has been “serving the country” with his tremendous sports achievements.

Penning their thoughts under the comments section of TODAY’s Facebook post, a handful of them back the young athlete saying that he “has done more national service than all others”, while a few highlighted that South Korea also exempts sportsmen who win a gold medal from military service.

“Lackadaisical…wow. He calls him that. Can Eugene even hold a candle for him? I think Joseph life long efforts of swimming qualifies as having served 3 sets of National Service for SG and Military NS should be waived for him,” said one netizen.

Another commenter wrote: “Who in this little red dot has an Olympic Gold medal. Since 1948…there has only been 1. That should be a criteria for exemption. He is already serving the country. We won’t lose battles or wars with 1 lesser soldier. But we will lose opportunities in getting medals if we force him to serve.”

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