National Service (NS) is one of the basic pillars, along with multiculturalism and religious harmony, of Singapore’s unique social fabric. All men of the modern generation have undergone the NS rituals, including our best athletes. These athletes are leaving their schools as our country’s future sport champions, but few of them actually realize their potential for Singapore pride in international competition. What happened to these potential sports stars? Did Team NS retain their passion and desire to excel in their sport? Why do so few people continue to play sports after school and in Nova Scotia? In our patriotic quest for more sporting distinction and glory, perhaps it is time to revisit our NS policy and see how we can truly support and encourage travel by potential sports stars without necessarily compromising the safety of the nation.
The argument that NS is detrimental to the development and continued pathway of our aspiring athletes in school is not new. The athletes concerned have been fighting for years for the Ministry of Defense (MINDEF) to make special concessions and arrangements for them to continue their training programs with their sports coaches. In most cases, MINDEF has adopted a general guideline in which athletes can continue their sports career as long as their obligations to their NS units are not compromised. Essentially, this means that athletes will have to rely on the good graces of their commanders to make special arrangements for them to continue training, while simultaneously performing their training and tasks with their units. The more difficult the better. Any top athlete will tell you that in order to be successful and compete with the rest of the athletes in the world, training twice a day, seven days a week, with full nutritional and physiological support, is standard practice. Training in NS in itself is really difficult and it is not possible to have the athletes spend time in Nova Scotia and train at the same time. Faced with this situation, most of our athletes have no choice but to give up. Only a few of those who are lucky and determined will be able to find the time to find a balance between NS and training commitments, so that they can be successful to some extent. Even these athletes don’t compare well when competing with other athletes around the world. How do athletes from non-compulsory countries present NS? Let’s take a look.
At the Olympics, the usual powers with the most medals include countries like China, the United States, Russia, Australia, Britain, Germany, and to some extent South Korea. and Japan. Do these countries have compulsory military service? The answer is no. The logical conclusion here is that athletes have clear paths to their athletic ambitions and peak performance in sport. Of course, some would argue that these countries are important in terms of their population size. China has 1.3 billion people. Among these people are certainly champions of various sports. that is true. Now let’s take a look at countries with a population similar to Singapore and compare their athletic achievements.
An Internet search will reveal that the following countries have a population size similar to that of Singapore (5 million); Norway (4.8 million), Ireland (4.5 million), Croatia (4.4 million), New Zealand (4.3 million), Finland (5.3 million) and Denmark (5.5 million). What catches your eye when you browse this menu? These are all countries with well-known sporting achievements despite their limited populations. The three aforementioned Scandinavian countries have won 350 gold medals at all Olympic Games and are also well represented in world sporting events. Norway and Denmark have participated in several FIFA World Cup tournaments. Finland is determined to produce professional NHL ice hockey players. Ireland and Croatia have won 8 and 3 Olympic gold medals respectively in their history. But let’s not forget that these two countries are also centers of strength in other sports. Ireland has a high score in the World Cup in football, rugby and even golf. Croatia regularly produces the best water polo and handball teams on the world stage. Need we say more about New Zealand? Besides the All Blacks team, New Zealand has also produced 36 Olympic gold medals in its history. These countries did not have huge population bases like China and Russia, but they have always managed to achieve peak performance in sports. By the way, did I mention that these countries do not have compulsory military service for their own citizens?
If we change our perspective and look at a country similar to Singapore, maybe NS’s impact on sport could become more apparent. Israel has a population of 7.5 million, which is more than the population of Singapore. They also have compulsory military service due to their security concerns. How many Olympic gold medals have they won? A. Are they prominent in other international sports? Not quite yet. Israel, like Singapore, also sent active teams to compete in major competitions, but there were very few successes. The question is: “Did compulsory military service in any way affect their athletic performance?” If we look at the evidence presented here, we cannot deny that NS has a role to play in limiting peak performance in sports.
NS suppresses the main period of athlete development. At the age of 17-20, our body reaches its maximum athletic potential. This is the time when athletic talent must be constantly nurtured. The disruption caused by the NS team will break this important cycle and stop athletes’ motivation to stop developing the sport in their lives. How many records from our national school continue to run and swim after school and years in Nova Scotia? barely. Imagine the amount of achievement that would be possible if these athletes were supported and encouraged to continue training in their sports. Singapore’s sporting achievement could be much more than what we have achieved so far.
There are of course opponents to free these athletes in order to develop the sport full time. Many would argue that failure to make secret remarks will break the fabric of Singapore. Many parents of soldiers feel it is unfair that their sons serve Nova Scotia when the athletes “take the easy way.” It is undeniable that NS is important. We must not go too far. Our security and prosperity depend on it. But we are also in an era of dynamic change where different heights of distinction are important in nation building. We need to add to our social fabric by adjusting to peak performance in sport and other areas. Very few people contribute to these areas. So, if we are to achieve more sporting success, we must have policies that support these talented people; Otherwise, they will never reach their full potential because, as a nation, we have extinguished the passion for these areas. What about those who think sports are easy compared to NS? My response to these criticisms is that they have never experienced what a true first class athlete has experienced. In many ways, the training system for a top class athlete is more demanding than the typical NSF in Singapore. If you don’t believe, try working out twice a day, seven days a week. Try to follow a sports diet seven days a week. Try to give up social life for a few years to practice competition. Trying to win the gold medal is a difficult task.