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Mindef reviews leave system for NS athletes

There may be hope for national athletes serving National Service to get time off to train and compete in a wider variety of competitions soon. -TNP

Thu, Feb 16, 2012
The New Paper

There may be hope for national athletes serving National Service to get time off to train and compete in a wider variety of competitions soon.

The Ministry of Defence is currently conducting a review of its SAF Sportsmen Scheme, a programme which gives serviceman-athletes full-pay unrecorded leave for sporting purposes.

This is on top of their allotment of annual leave.

The review was revealed by Acting Minister for Community Development, Youth and Sports Chan Chun Sing during the Vision 2030 press conference yesterday.

Probed on the NS issue at the MCYS headquarters, Mr Chan said: "We've had many positive discussions with Mindef over the past few months but they want to come up with a holistic framework, rather than a piecemeal announcement.

"But we know that over the years Mindef has actually been very supportive... and tried various ways to make adjustments, to allow the athletes to fulfil their NS obligations while pursuing their sporting excellence," added Mr Chan, who was the Chief of Army before entering politics last year.

Higher expectations

Minister of State for Trade and Industry Teo Ser Luck noted that the expectations of Singaporeans for athletes to achieve results at the world level had "escalated" in recent years.

"It is the Minister's plan to widen the base in terms of the type of competitions... to see whether additional top-tier competitions such as world championships can be included," added Mr Teo, also the chairman of the Olympic Pathway Programme steering committee.

At present, the SAF Sportsmen Scheme and the corresponding programme for police and civil defence NSFs recognise the South-east Asia Games, Commonwealth Games, Asian Games and the Olympics.

Competitions such as the Fifa World Cup qualifiers are also applicable, with footballer Hariss Harun - serving NS with the police - getting clearance to play for the Lions last year after finishing his basic training.

However, others such as long jumper Matthew Goh and LionsXII player Raihan Rahman had not been able to utilise the sportsmen schemes.

Last year, national long jump record holder Goh was not allowed to defer his NS by three months to take part in the Asian and World Junior Athletics Championships.

Raihan has had to use his own annual leave to travel for away games in the Malaysian Super League this season because both Mindef and the Singapore Police Force do not recognise the club competition under their schemes.

However, any change in the sportsmen scheme could benefit swimming sensation Joseph Schooling, 16, who is the only Singaporean to meet the "A" qualifying mark for this July's London Olympics so far and aiming for a medal at the 2016 Games.

But Singapore Sports Council chief executive Lim Teck Yin said: "I would say that the Singapore sporting community needs to step up and say this is very much a part of our system. If we want to compete with others, we take it in our stride. That's the spirit of sport.

"Having said that we have to work very closely with Mindef on the different schemes that may be available to support sportsmen who are getting to their prime just as they are going to enlist."

This article was first published in The New Paper.

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