Mindef open to let more athletes serving NS train for top competitions: Ng Eng Hen

·Senior Editor
·3 min read
Composite image of Joseph Schooling in a swimming pool and Ng Eng Hen at a podium.
Ng Eng Hen's (right) comments come after Joseph Schooling (left), who is currently serving his NS, recently called for a 'national dialogue' on expectations on NS-serving athletes like him. (PHOTOS: Reuters)

SINGAPORE — The Ministry of Defence (Mindef) is prepared to allow more athletes who are doing national service (NS) to disrupt and participate in international competitions, Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen said on Tuesday (5 July).

Dr Ng was responding to a question by NCMP Leong Mun Wai, who asked whether the government will relax its eligibility criteria for deferment for male Singaporeans with potential to accomplish significant successes in the sports and arts fields.

Speaking in Parliament, Dr Ng mentioned a number of athletes who were granted NS disruption to train and compete in the recent SEA Games including table tennis player Koen Pang, hurdler Ang Chen Xiang and triathlete Luke Chua, and long-term deferment including swimmers Joseph Schooling and Quah Zheng Wen, who competed in the 2016 and 2020 Olympics.

His comments come after Schooling, who is currently serving his NS, recently called for a "national dialogue" on expectations on NS-serving athletes like him. The Olympic gold medalist said it had been challenging for him to juggle NS and sports training commitments.

Overwhelming support for NS

Dr Ng reiterated the long-held sacrosanct and universal principles of NS that all male Singaporeans and permanent residents have to abide by.

“At its core, it means that all males Singaporeans and permanent residents who are fit and liable to serve are conscripted for full-time national service, as required by the Enlistment Act, and not at the time of their choosing. Further, during the two years that they serve national service, all personal goals are put aside and placed subservient to the higher duty to defend Singapore.”

NS continues to enjoy high levels of public support, with a recent poll showing that 96 per cent of Singaporean respondents affirming that NS is critical for Singapore’s defence and security, Dr Ng highlighted.

Singapore takes NS commitments very seriously, and a number of defaulters who had failed to meet their NS liability were sentenced to jail by the courts.

For arts and sports talent who can bring national glory, they are allowed deferments and disruptions but it is “not a license to do away” with their NS obligations, Dr Ng said.

“We provide deferments and disruptions for any reason sparingly, justified adequately and implemented openly, otherwise the system fails,” he added.

Despite the overwhelming support for NS, Dr Ng told the House that a number of Singaporeans had written to the media and Mindef to state that they do not support deferment or disruption for sports.

Even with the tight criteria, deferments and disruptions can have “a pernicious effect to cause invidious comparisons” that some are not performing their NS duties, Dr Ng said.

Expressing pride for the understanding of Singapore’s athletes about their NS duties, Dr Ng added, “None of them have asked to be exempted from national service duties, including those who trained hard and participated in recent regional and international events. They understand that everyone must fulfill their NS duties even if they are sporting or art talent.”

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