SINGAPORE: Olympic gold medallist Joseph Schooling has told Fulham footballer Benjamin Davis to "follow his dreams ... and do what he needs to do" after the teen's request to defer his National Service (NS) was rejected by the Ministry of Defence.
Speaking on the sidelines of the Singapore Sports Awards held at the Marina Bay Sands, where he was crowned Singapore's Sportsman of the Year for a record-equalling fifth time, Schooling said he "emphathised" with Benjamin.
"It's definitely been a difficult situation for him. My advice to him would be to follow his dreams, follow his heart and do what he needs to do," said the swimmer.
"I come from a different sport, I was in a different situation. I can't advise him on what to do. Obviously, he should get together with his parents, decide what's the best plan for himself and go from there."
Schooli ng, 23, is one of three athletes to have been granted long-term deferment from NS in the last 15 years.
In a statement last Saturday announcing its decision to reject Benjamin's application, MINDEF said that deferments are granted only to those who represent Singapore in international competitions like the Olympic Games and are potential medal winners for Singapore.
Apart from Schooling, swimmer Quah Zheng Wen and Asian Games gold medallist sailor Maximillian Soh are the other two who have been granted deferments in that period.
Asked about his experience in getting his NS deferred, Schooling said it was "tough" not just for him, but his family as well.
"But I believe in what we are trying to do," said Schooling, who made it clear that he was speaking for himself and his family.
"People have all these things in place, everyone wants to do the right thing. But for me, I was very happy so that I can achieve my dreams and my goals.
"I'm very fortunate to have help from MCCY (Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth), MINDEF, SSA (Singapore Swimming Association). Ultimately I achieved my goal, so I'm very lucky in that aspect," he said.
The Football Association of Singapore has backed Benjamin in his request for deferment, saying on Tuesday that the midfielder's case merits serious consideration.
But MINDEF on Wednesday said that the 17 year old has no intention of returning to fulfil his NS duties, and that his father Harvey Davis openly admitted that he is looking out for his son's future, not Singapore's.
This was refuted by Davis, who said he had made it clear that "Ben should do his NS but the question is just when".