SINGAPORE - The best news of the year for Singapore swimmer Joseph Schooling came not from the pool, but from Parliament yesterday.
After years of fretting over his national service (NS) commitments, the 18-year-old was granted a deferment to serve his full-time NS only after the 2016 Olympic Games.
The announcement came from no less a person than Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen, who told Parliament that Joseph has the potential to do well at the Olympics.
The United States-based swimmer did not win a medal in his Olympic debut in London last year, but is expected to be in his prime when the Rio Games comes round in three years' time.
Speaking to My Paper from Florida, where he is studying at Bolles School, Joseph said he was relieved by the news.
"(This worry about NS) has been around for a while... It's definitely a big relief to me, so right now I can...just focus on my swimming."
Dr Ng said yesterday that the Defence Ministry received an application for deferment from Joseph's parents earlier this year. Included in the appeal were detailed plans outlining his training schedule and targets en route to representing Singapore at the next Games.
The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) also supported Joseph's appeal.
Dr Ng was responding to a question by Jurong GRC MP David Ong, who asked if there could be a more flexible approach to NS enlistment for top male athletes.
The minister replied that deferment from full-time NS may be granted in "exceptional circumstances" to individual sportsmen who are assessed to be potential medal winners at international competitions.
Individuals will have to show why deferment is necessary for them to train full-time and compete successfully. They will also be assessed on a case-by-case basis, in consultation with the MCCY.
Nee Soon GRC MP Lee Bee Wah, who is also president of the Singapore Table Tennis Association, asked if sportsmen gunning for other international events like the Asian Games would also be considered for deferment.
Dr Ng replied that the competitions must be "sufficiently high-level" and athletes concerned must also be "exceptional".
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