Singapore’s Football Association working on appeal with footballer Ben Davis after his national service deferment application is rejected

Teenage Singapore footballer Ben Davis at the grounds of English Premier League club Fulham FC.
The Straits Times

The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) is now working on an appeal to help 17-year-old Singapore footballer Ben Davis, after his application for the deferment of full-time National Service (NS) in Singapore was rejected by the authorities.

Singapore’s Ministry of Defence (Mindef) issued a media statement on Wednesday (July 18) explaining its decision.

It read: “The Ministry of Defence recognises Mr. Benjamin Davis’ achievement in securing a senior contract with Fulham Football Club (FC).

“However, deferment from National Service (NS) is granted for exceptional sportsmen to represent our national interest and not their own career development.

“When granted, deferment is given for a defined period after which these sportsmen must return to fulfil their NS duties. Mr Davis’ application does not meet the deferment criteria and was therefore turned down.”

Mindef also revealed in the statement that Ben signed the professional contract with Fulham despite knowing that his application for NS deferment has been rejected.

In an earlier statement on July 14, Mindef had said that its rejection of the application for deferment was communicated to Ben and his parents on June 11 – 18 days before Ben went on to sign a two-year professional contract with Fulham.

In its latest statement now, Mindef added: “When asked during the deferment application process when Mr Davis intended to return and serve NS, Mr Davis’ father would not commit to a date and expressed that he would put Mr Davis’ professional career first.

“Mr Davis went on to sign the contract despite the rejection for deferment and his father has publicly stated that he would encourage Mr Davis to renounce his Singapore citizenship in order to pursue his career.

“Mr Davis’ actions are meant to further his own professional career, not national interest. As his father openly admitted, he is looking out for his son’s future, not Singapore’s. They have no intention of returning to fulfil their son’s NS duties, especially if Mr Davis is given a full professional contract after the two years of his senior contract.

“To allow deferment for this type of appeal, would severely undermine the ethos and sacrifice of Singaporeans who have all put aside their personal interests to complete their NS duties.

“Many talented sportsmen, including footballers, have completed their NS dutifully first before pursuing their professional careers. Mindef has in place schemes during full-time NS to enable them to continue training to retain and improve their skills.

“We also provide additional training opportunities in the lead-up to major games such as the Southeast Asian and Olympic Games where our sportsmen represent Singapore and do us proud.”

The FAS though, is still working with Ben’s family on an appeal.

Its July 17 statement read: “The FAS strongly supported Benjamin Davis’s request to defer his National Service (N.S.) obligations, and we made this known in our earlier communications through MCCY (Ministry of Culture, Community & Youth) when the application was first made. 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.

“The FAS wholly agrees that National Service is of vital importance to our nation, and we cannot accept any less. The obligation to serve is universal, and we understand Mindef’s position that requests for deferment from service should be the rare exception for sportsmen rather than the norm.

“The FAS believes that this is one such case which merits serious consideration even within Mindef’s current framework. We wish for a balanced approach to be taken, to promote and enhance burgeoning talent without at the same time compromising the integrity of the national service agenda.

“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. It is a reflection not only of the fact that Singaporean footballers have the potential to rise to the top of the profession, but also a recognition of the local coaching and development framework which Ben has come through.

“In addition, this opportunity is consistent with the FAS’ objective of having our best players develop and flourish in a more challenging environment and then to return to Singapore to impart that value-added experience, and collectively also play a part to improve the national team.

“The recent rule change to ensure more young players play in the Singapore Premier League was also implemented to do this – accelerate their development.

“We hope that weight can be given to the above, and to the prospect of leveraging on Benjamin’s trailblaze to motivate and inspire local talent.

“The FAS understands the concerns around exceptions but believes that a balance can be struck between player development and national service obligations in this unique case. 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.

“We will work with Benjamin and his family on the above, with a view to seeking to persuade Mindef of the merits of the application and to assuage Mindef’s concerns over Benjamin’s national service commitments, and to find a balanced solution to the issue which best serves our nation’s interests.”

Singapore’s Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How, speaking during a visit to Tuas Naval Base on July 17, told the media: “All applications, all appeals have to be based on facts, and we will have to evaluate the facts. And if the facts are no different, then our position will be consistent.

“On the subject of deferment, the criteria that Mindef uses to assess applications have been transparent and have been consistent over time, so there is no movement of the goal posts on the part of Mindef or the SAF (Singapore Armed Forces).”

Mr Heng said the Government wants to value every Singaporean and develop the country’s talent.

He said: “But… we must also remember that the purpose for all this development is that we have a country and all of us actually have a duty to one another and this country.”

“So, we have got to make a good balance between our duty to this country and also our very genuine urge to enable everybody to reach their highest potential.”

Read also: Everything you need to know about Fulham’s Ben Davis – the first Singaporean to be signed by an English Premier League club