SINGAPORE'S top swimming prospect Joseph Schooling has been given time to focus on the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, after the Government granted his request for deferment from full-time national service (NS).
Minister for Defence Ng Eng Hen said in Parliamenton Monday that the 18-year-old swimmer, who was due to enlist next year, has been granted deferment until Aug 31, 2016.
"The Ministry of Culture, Community and Youth (MCCY) supported the appeal for deferment, as they assessed that, based on his previous achievements in international competitions, Mr Schooling had potential to do well in the next Olympics," he said. "He will be enlisted for full-time NS once his deferment ends."
Dr Ng was speaking in response to a question from Mr David Ong (Jurong GRC) about the possibility of a flexible approach to NS enlistment for top athletes.
When further asked by Ms Lee Bee Wah (Nee Soon GRC) if athletes competing at lower-level competitions like the Asian Games would also be considered for deferment, Dr Ng responded that competitions must be sufficiently high-level and athletes concerned must be exceptional.
He added: "Individuals have to show why deferment is necessary for them to train full-time and compete successfully at international competitions.
"Each case will be assessed individually in consultation with the MCCY."
Schooling said he heaved a sigh of relief upon receiving the news.
"We've been asking for deferment for three years now. I'm just grateful that I can get on the good side of this," he said in a telephone interview from the United States, where he is based.
"I'm setting myself up for a good show in 2016. I still have a little more than two years to work towards my goal.
"At the rate I'm going right now, I'm confident."
The 2011 Sportsman of the Year won two golds at the 2011 SEA Games in Palembang, and qualified for last year's London Olympics. He also made his mark at this year's world championships in Barcelona, where he became the youngest swimmer to qualify for the semi-finals of the 200m butterfly and 200m individual medley - two events which he set new national records in.