National Service NS, along with multiculturalism, religious harmony, is one of the foundations that make up Singapore’s unique social fabric. All men of modern age have been through the rites and ceremonies of NS, even our most talented athletes. While these athletes are destined to be future champions in their chosen sport, very few of them will ever make Singapore proud at international competitions. These potential sports stars are now gone. Was NS a factor in these potential sports stars’ passions and determination to succeed? What is the reason so many people quit their sport after high school and NS? Perhaps it is time to re-examine our NS policy in order to support these sports stars and not compromise the national security.
It is not new to argue that NS is harmful for the continued development of our young athletes. The affected athletes have been trying for years to convince the Ministry of Defence MINDEF, to make special arrangements and concessions to allow them to continue their training with their coaches. MINDEF has generally agreed that athletes can continue their sports careers as long as they do not compromise their obligations to their respective NS units. Athletes will need to rely on their commanding officers for special arrangements to allow them to continue their training while also fulfilling their duties with their units.
A top-class athlete will tell anyone that to succeed and compete with other world-class athletes, it is essential to train twice daily, seven days a week with full nutrition and physiological support. NS training is difficult enough without having to ask our athletes to train and spend time in NS. Most of our athletes are forced to leave when they find themselves in this predicament. Only a few, who are lucky and determined enough to make it work, will manage to balance NS commitments with training so that they can achieve some success. These athletes are not able to compete against other sportsmen around the globe. What does it mean for sportsmen from countries that do not require NS? Let’s explore this further.
The usual Olympic Games powerhouses with the highest medals are countries such as China, USA and Russia. These countries do not have to perform military service. No. This is a logical conclusion. Their athletes have clear paths to their sporting goals and their peak performance. Some might argue that these large countries are too populous. If we shift our perspective and consider a country like Singapore, the impact of NS on sport might become more apparent. Israel’s population is 7.5m. This is a fraction of Singapore’s. Because of security concerns, they also have to serve in the military. We can see that NS plays a role in limiting peak performance in sport if we examine the evidence.