Ben Davis gets walloped in Singapore Parliament

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IN football language, it was a walloping. In military terms, a bombardment as the Ben Davis issue was raised in Singapore’s Parliament on Monday.

In no uncertain terms, Singapore Defence Minister Dr Ng Eng Hen was in absolute firing mode as he gunned down the Davis family’s application to audaciously defer his National Service stint.

I had written a no-punches-pulled article on July 19 2018 in this column, supporting Mindef (Defence Ministry) in its strict handling of this prolonged controversy, which on merit, is close to a zero as the 17-year-old footballer has not played a single “A” international match for Singapore and yet harboured aspirations to seek to professional football career with Fulham FC in the English Premiership.

In my opinion, and I reiterate, Ben’s father, Mr Harvey Davis, has taken a majority for a jolly good ride in recent weeks, which has led to some personal polarising discussions on the Internet. But if you lay the cards, you realise the Ben Davis issue ranks lower than a storm in a tea-cup.

And, very patriotically, the Defence Minister made it clear the government would never tolerate a Singaporean teenager putting aside his citizen’s obligation to pursue a personal interest.

If Fandi Ahmad’s prodigious sons, Irfan and Ikhsan and also another Tampines Rovers rip-roaring striker Saifullah Akbar can complete NS and then seek respective professional careers in Europe, what’s so special about Ben Davis, who was not used by (then-national coach) V. Sundramoorthy for a friendly match against Maldives!

Both Saifullah and Ikhsan requested for an early enlistment so that they could finish their national service obligation. During their national service, both Ikhsan and Irfan trained and played for the Under-22 National Team during the 2017 South East Asian (SEA) Games.

SALUTE TO DEFENCE MINISTER

I salute Dr Ng for his whole-hearted rejection of the Davis’s application. And laying out his strategy to explain to Singaporeans, never to take Mindef for a ride.

He holistically referred to the Enlistment Act which made plain that all male citizens must be treated equally and should not be allowed to enlist at their “own personal convenience and choosing”. Mind you, the judiciary too had emphasised “equity” when it upped sentencing benchmarks for NS defaulters last year. At the last count, 13 such defaulters have gone to jail.

I’m glad Dr Ng reiterated the major points I made in my July 19 argument, specifically that Davis would be playing for Fulham as an Englishman and, according to Fifa rules, he will always have to play as an Englishman or for England. That sort of puts to rest some pundits that argued that he be allowed to hone his professional footballing skills abroad so that he can bring glory to Singapore at a later date.

Personally, I thought Dr Ng reserved his toughest military-punches for Mr Harvey Davis, who didn’t play ‘fair play’ ball with Mindef in seeking a honourable deferment. Mr Davis wouldn’t give a time frame for his son’s return to do NS. He even audaciously challenged the government, after the deferment was turned down, that he intends for his son to pursue a professional footballing career for as long as he can.

The Defence Minister roared: “The application by Mr Harvey Davis for his son’s deferment is to further his son’s professional career first and to the longest extent possible…Singapore and her interests, including his son’s NS obligations, are secondary consideration, if at all.”

As I wrote in my article, military deferment is an absolute privilege and comes with strings attached. World-class swimmers like 23-year-old Joseph Schooling even had specific benchmarks to meet – or risk having his deferment curtailed.  

To his magnificent credit, he was even given an unprecedented celebration in Parliament, after he won the first-ever Olympic Games gold medallist in the 100 m butterfly at the 2016 Rio Olympics. His winning time of 50.39 seconds was a Singapore, Asian and Olympic Games record!

NO JOLLY GOOD RIDE

I hope the Ben Davis controversy, needlessly raised in Parliament but matter-of-factly done in order to open the Mindef books on deferment, will now show how the government will not be taken for a jolly good ride with a British father who tried to circumvent the NS rules.

Ben Davis, in my books, is just an ordinary footballer. Not even S-League standard. Definitely not Lions “A”-class category with a father who wanted to sell him as a God-send idol like Marcus Rashford (England) or Kylian Mbappe (France).

Mindef and Dr Ng had the last laugh as they fired away the righteous ammunitions in Parliament to put umpteen holes in the Davis family’s poorly-argued application to defer his National Service.

Yes, in football parlance, if I may repeat, it was a walloping. In military terms, an unprecedented bombardment to set the records straight. – BY SURESH NAIR

 

  • Suresh Nair is a Singapore-based journalist who served his NS (National Service) and has represented the country as an amateur sportsman.
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