SINGAPORE: The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) said on Tuesday (Jul 17) that it strongly supported Singaporean footballer Benjamin Davis' request to defer his National Service (NS) obligations, and will work with the teenager and his family to "persuade" the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF).
In the statement, the FAS noted that while it wholly agrees that NS is of vital importance to the nation, it also believes that Davis' case merits serious consideration as it is the first time a Singaporean has been offered a professional contract by a club from one of the top six leagues in the world.
A Singaporean playing at the highest level would benefit the "community and nation", it added.
The FAS said it had made known its support for Davis' request to defer his NS obligations through its communications with the Ministry of Culture, Community and 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," FAS said.
"We will work with Benjamin and his family ... 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," added the FAS.
The 17-year-old midfielder has signed a two-year contract with Fulham, the newly promoted Premier League (EPL) club announced on its website on Friday (Jul 13). Davis, the first Singaporean to ink a professional contract with a top-tier English club, turns 18 in November.
However, in a statement on Sunday (Jul 15), MINDEF confirmed that Davis' application was not approved as he "does not meet the criteria for long-term deferment from full-time NS".
"As all male Singaporeans liable for full-time NS put aside personal pursuits to dutifully enlist and serve their NS, it would not be fair to approve applications for deferment for individuals to pursue their own careers and development," MINDEF said.
Senior Minister of State for Defence Heng Chee How on Tuesday also stressed that MINDEF is likely to reject Davis' application to defer NS should there be no new facts presented in his appeal.
But, Singapore football's governing body stressed the need for a balanced approach to be taken in the decision of Benjamin's appeal.
"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.
FAS added that the professional contract offered to Davis by Fulham "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".
While FAS understands MINDEF's position that requests for deferment should only be in exceptional circumstances, it also said that it believes that a balance can be struck.
"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," said the statement.
"The FAS ... 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," it added.