National Service (NS) is one of the key foundations, together with multiculturalism and religious harmony, in Singapore’s unique social fabric. Every male of the modern generation has gone through the rites of NS, including our very best athletes. These athletes leave their schools as future sports champions of our nation, but very few of them actually fulfill their potential to do Singapore proud in international competitions. What happened to these potential sports stars? Did NS hinder their passion and motivation to excel in their sports? Why do so few carry on in their sports after school and NS? In our national quest for more sporting excellence and glories, perhaps it is time to re-look at our NS policy and see how we can truly support and encourage the journeys of these potential sports stars without necessarily compromising the security of the nation.
The argument that NS is detrimental to the development and continuous journey of our budding athletes from school is not new. Athletes who are affected have been fighting for years to get the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) to make special concessions and arrangements for them to continue with their training programs with their sports coaches. In most cases, MINDEF has adopted a general guide line that athletes can still continue with their sports career as long as their obligations with their respective NS units are not compromised. This basically means that athletes will have to count on the good graces of their commanding officers to make special arrangements for them to continue training, and at the same time fulfill their training and duties with their units. A most difficult task at best. Any top class athlete will tell you that in order to be successful and be competitive with the rest of the other world class athletes, training twice a day, seven day a week, with full nutritional and physiological support is common practice. NS training by itself is already tough, and asking our athletes to spend time in NS and train at the same time is just not possible. When faced with this situation, most of our athletes have no choice but to drop out. Only a handful, with good fortunate and determination will be able to find the time to balance the NS commitments and training to the effect that some measure of success is possible. Even these athletes do not compare well when competing against other sportsmen from around the world. How do sportsmen in countries without compulsory NS fair? Let us investigate a bit further.
In the Olympic Games, the usual powerhouses that garner the most medals include countries like China, USA, Russia, Australia, Britain, Germany, and to a certain extend South Korea and Japan. Do these countries have compulsory military service? The answer is no. A logical conclusion here is that their athletes have unimpeded paths towards their sporting ambitions and peak performance in sports. Of course some might argue that these countries are large in terms of their population size. China has a population of 1.3 billion. Surely, from these mass of people, champions for various sports can be found. That is true. Let us now examine countries with similar population as Singapore and compare their sport achievements.