Singaporean Olympic swimmers Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen will soon be expected to enlist for full-time National Service (NS).
The Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said in a Sep. 16 statement to media queries that the deferment period for both swimmers ended on Aug. 31, 2021.
They will be enlisted once the necessary pre-enlistment procedures have been completed.
Schooling, 26, had previously been granted NS deferment for seven years from 2014 to 2021.
Quah, 24, was also deferred from NS, but for six years, from 2015 to 2021.
Schooling’s parents had previously applied to MINDEF for his NS deferment when he was due to enlist in 2014.
His appeal was granted as Schooling was determined to have the “potential to do well” in the 2016 Olympic Games.
Schooling was subsequently granted an extension of his NS deferment in 2020, together with Quah, to train for and compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics.
The conditions for deferment have been laid out previously.
Defence minister Ng Eng Hen shared in a Parliamentary Statement in 2018 that deferment from full-time NS may only be granted in “exceptional circumstances” to individual sportsmen, who are “assessed to be potential medal winners at international competitions like the Olympic Games”.
Individuals who apply for deferment have to show why it is necessary for them to train full-time in order to compete successfully on an international stage.
To “preserve equity” for all NS men, long-term deferment is carried out with very stringent criteria, only if an individual’s deferment “serves Singapore’s interest first and foremost, never their own”, added Ng then.
Each case is subsequently assessed on a case-by-case basis in consultation with the Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY).
In the past 15 years, only three sportsmen have been granted NS deferments.
They include swimmers Schooling and Quah, and sailor Maximilian Soh, so that they could train for the Olympics.
Training in enlistment
According to MINDEF, flexibility and time-off will still be offered to athletes on a case-by-case basis during NS, to support them in their international competitions.
In the 2018 Parliamentary Statement , Ng gave examples of MINDEF having adjusted some enlistment dates for national servicemen, so that they could participate in the Games first and enlist later.
Going a step further, Ng said that MINDEF had done more beyond these provisions, offering disruption to full-time NSFs competing in these games when needed.
However, he pointed out very few have chosen to disrupt, presumably because they were able to train adequately in the SAF.
“Disruption for individuals after they are enlisted for NS follows the same principles and (is) also given only for national reasons. We disrupt medical students to complete their medical studies because we need them to serve as Medical Officers during their NS to take care of their fellow soldiers. It is not a personal career choice, we need them. It is not an entitlement and once the reasons are no longer valid, the disruption will end. No discussions.”
All male Singapore citizens and permanent residents have to serve as a full-time National Serviceman (NSF) for two years, upon attaining the age of 18.
NS has been the cornerstone of Singapore's national defence and security since gaining independence in 1965.
Schooling is Singapore’s only Olympic gold medallist, having won gold in the 100m butterfly event in the 2016 Rio Olympic Games.
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