Singaporean youth footballer Benjamin Davis may switch nationalities if his appeal for a national service (NS) deferment is not granted by the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF), said his father Harvey Davis.
Speaking to Yahoo News Singapore over the phone from Sweden on Monday (16 July), the 49-year-old Englishman was asked about the ongoing speculation that his 17-year-old son might decide to play for another national team if he is required to begin serving NS in December.
“We have been very clear and transparent that that’s a decision that we would not want to make and it’s not something that we would want to do.
“But at the end of the day, if the deferment request isn’t accepted… then we wouldn’t really have a lot of choices and we’d be forced into a situation where we have to make a decision we don’t want to make,” said Harvey, who runs the JSSL Arsenal Soccer School here.
Asked if this meant that Ben – who was born in Thailand and granted Singapore citizenship in September 2009 – would indeed switch national allegiances, Harvey responded, “He wouldn’t have any choice… he wants to pursue his dream. He is in a unique position, one that no Singaporean has ever been in.
“It’s a decision that we don’t want to have to make.”
The father of four stressed that it is a “crucial time” in his son’s burgeoning career, citing 19-year-old French striker Kylian Mbappe as an example, noting that “you can’t just take two years away (from Ben) and expect him to come back in”.
“If it was your son, what would you do? That’s the question that I always ask and everyone comes back with the same answer: Of course they would allow their son to pursue his dream,” he added.
Last July, Ben signed a two-year scholarship deal with English Premier League (EPL) side Fulham FC. Ben, who has represented the Republic in various age groups, is the first Singaporean to be taken on professionally by a top flight English club.
On Sunday, MINDEF said in a statement that Ben’s application had been rejected 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,” said the ministry, which noted that the decision was made in consultation with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth.
“In sports, deferments are granted only to those who represent Singapore in international competitions like the Olympic Games and are potential medal winners for Singapore.”
The Football Association of Singapore (FAS) is helping the Davis family to submit an appeal against MINDEF’s decision.
Currently, NS deferments are granted to those studying medicine at a local university as well as those awarded the Public Service Commission (PSC) Overseas Merit Scholarship (OMS). By contrast, only three athletes – swimmers Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen and sailor Maximillian Soh – have been granted deferments in the last 15 years.
So what does Davis Senior think of the apparent prioritising of academia over sports?
“Singapore’s renowned for its focus on education and that’s great, but times have changed. You have a Singaporean who has been able to attain that level… hopefully policies that were made without an expectation that something like this would come up will be adjusted accordingly,” he said.
On his son’s feelings about the situation, he said, “He’s focused on his football. His willingness is to come back and play for Singapore. But when you have authorities who aren’t willing to give you the support you need, that starts to have an effect.”
Harvey, whose older son has already served NS, stressed that he was not asking for an exemption for Ben. “We’ve always said from Day 1, our children should serve. He will serve, but not just now.”
Ben played for the FAS’ Junior Centre of Excellence team from 2010 to 2012 and also took part in last year’s Asean Football Federation U-18 and Asian Football Confederation U-19 tournaments.
He was also recently called to the national team for a friendly match against the Maldives.