SNOC urges greater flexibility for athletes serving NS

Swimmer Quah Zheng Wen, most bemedalled athlete at the SEA Games with 12 medals, will be due for National Service enlistment soon. (Photo: Adrian Seetho/SNOC)

22 Jun 2015

Mr Tan Chuan-Jin, President of the Singapore National Olympic Council, shares his post SEA Games assessment in a three-part interview. Read the other two interviews here:

Singapore, 22 June 2015 – The Singapore National Olympic Council (SNOC) wants to work with the Defence Ministry to give top local athletes more flexibility when doing their National Service (NS).

While acknowledging that it is “tricky”, SNOC president Tan Chuan-Jin said he would like to “push the boundaries” to see what is possible.

First, can the number of athletes who obtain deferments be increased?

Now, only swimmer Joseph Schooling, who won nine gold medals at the recent South-east Asian Games, has qualified. His NS was deferred for two years in 2013.

Fellow swimmer Quah Zheng Wen, who is the most bemedalled athlete at the SEA Games with 12 medals, is also reported to be in talks with the relevant stakeholders on a deferment.

Mr Tan said there may be room for more. “The question now is do we expand that space (for more deferments),” said the Minister for Social and Family Development.

“Could you have a slightly bigger band? So you adjust your threshold, so that those who are promising – and you have to define what promising means – therefore may have the possibility of deferment?” he asked.

Second, even if deferments are not possible, greater flexibility can be introduced to accommodate athletes’ training during their NS.

“Could they still clock in the hours, and as much as possible, coming closer to the games, are there things you could do to afford them more targeted training?” said Mr Tan, who was a military man holding the rank of brigadier-general before he joined politics in 2011.

“This is something we have to work with Mindef to allow some level of flexibility. The athletes would still do their NS, but allowing some level of flexibility. For that to happen, we should try to push the boundaries on that to see what is possible.”

The tussle between top athletes and conscription has been ongoing in Singapore for decades, with the sports fraternity usually concerned that an athlete’s enforced break from the sport would hurt his progress.

Similar tensions have been seen in places like South Korea, Taiwan and Israel.

Mr Tan said that it is not possible to see NS as a “non-factor” in the development of a young promising athlete.

But even if a full waiver is not possible, he wants to explore flexible solutions on a case-by-case basis.

“We do not need a blanket agreement. But can we work out local solutions with units? And that might be workable, as they have some flexibility there,” he said.

“If the commander feels he can accommodate, he can make the call, why not? So try to explore that and work closely with army units and Home team and see how to make it more accommodating.

“We should constantly have this to-ing and fro-ing with them on this. We should try to see whether that space can be expanded somewhat.”