Football in $ingapore: Passion Made Impossible

So after the most exciting World Cup final in recent times (poor Croatia), everybody’s thoughts are still on football but of a local variety. Nope not the S-League silly, or whatever they call it nowadays. Ben Davis, a 17-year-old Singaporean, signed a two-year contract with newly promoted EPL side Fulham.


That should be great news because it has never happened before – a Singaporean footballer signing a professional contract with a top-tier English team. After all, the EPL is arguably the best league in the world. But unfortunately, that news has been tainted by MINDEF’s rejection of Ben’s application to defer his National Service, a decision that has many people up-in-arms. Not one, but two online petitions have surfaced online.

In MINDEF’s statement, the ministry said that very few applications have been approved over the years and for sports, deferments are granted to those who represent Singapore in international competitions like the Olympic Games and are potential medal winners for the nation.

Only three have met this criteria in the last 15 years – swimmers Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen, as well as sailor Maximilian Soh.

Many views have surfaced online. Ex-NMP Calvin Cheng said that if Public Service Commission scholars are allowed to defer NS until after their university studies, why not Ben?


On the other hand, ex-diplomat Bilahari Kausikan waded in to offer another perspective – what makes Ben’s achievement so different from others who have similar or greater achievements in their respective fields but yet do not defer their NS?

And of course, comparisons to the case of Dr Tony Tan’s son have come up too. Calvin Cheng says, “Former President Tony Tan’s son for example had his NS deferred for more than a decade because he was a brilliant student who graduated with a double MD-PhD.” May we ask then what achievements has he made that he should be allowed to defer NS?

Although Ben’s father has appealed to MINDEF regarding their decision, Mr Harvey Davis has said that while he remains hopeful of the appeal, the family is prepared to allow him to renounce his Singaporean citizenship in order to fulfil his footballing dreams.

The likely scenario is that Ben will renounce his citizenship and it will be Singapore’s loss. After all, his dad is British and his mum is Thai, so he can easily choose between either country. To be able to secure a professional contract with Fulham is a once-in-lifetime thing. Would he want to lose this chance just because MINDEF is being so darn inflexible? I don’t think so.

To Mindef: Why do we want to drive a boy to hate his country or to leave his country?

Imagine what Ben’s parents probably told him growing up: Ah Boy ah, we will support your dreams if you have talent. Just work hard to make it big so that we can help you discuss for a deferment. But you must really make big achievements because deferment is not easy, so you need to work really hard for yourself and your country ok.

And now that the boy has gotten an opportunity of a lifetime by his hard work, his country is just going to deprive him because he cannot win a medal? Hello?! Yes, granted Ben can’t win an Olympic medal or something similar, but that’s not the pinnacle of football. The World Cup is but football is a team sport. You think 11 world class players are born just like that and drop from the sky into Singapore is it?!

If we don’t take a first step to give him the chance to upgrade his skills and come back to share with other Singaporeans,  how to start winning for Singapore? The football ecosystem in Singapore is in a shambles. Goal 2010 anyone? And we still don’t want to support a rare talent?!

If Ben comes back to serve NS, his football development will be disrupted for sure. Because why would Fulham wait for him to serve NS? They will just move on to the next talented teenager.

MINDEF must really move with the times. They need to look past individual sports and towards team sports, which can bring as much glory to Singapore.  Getting a professional contract in the EPL is pretty much the pinnacle for a footballer. So if government scholars, medical students and Dr Tony Tan’s son can defer their NS, why shouldn’t we allow Ben to do so?

After all, nobody is saying he can skip NS. He is just deferring it. Ben has every intention to eventually finish his NS obligations. Ben’s older brother has served NS and his younger brother intends to do so too.

We need to change our mentality about different pathways to success. Our government likes to harp on that but when it comes to the crunch, our elites in their ivory towers are still stuck in their elite mentalities.

If not, we can all continue to only dream on. If dreams are what this is made of.