SINGAPORE - It was a difficult hurdle to cross before, with various National Sports Associations (NSAs) struggling to find a balance between the National Service (NS) commitments of their male athletes who were training for sporting excellence at the same time.
But, in the lead-up to June's South-east Asia (SEA) Games here, NSAs have received a huge boost.
Over 40 athletes across a range of sports will be deferred from National Service until after the Games, which will be held from June 5 to 16.
"The Government recognises that this is a special year and the deferment from enlistment is a reflection of such," said chairman of the Singapore SEA Games Organising Committee (Singsoc) executive committee Lim Teck Yin, on the sidelines of a briefing on ticket prices for the event and the build-up of activities.
The full list of deferred athletes was not released, but it is believed swimmers like Quah Zheng Wen and footballers are in the mix.
"The deferment has benefited me in that it has allowed me to train more thoroughly, given that I have spent less time in the pool last year due to my International Baccalaureate (IB) diploma examinations," said Quah (below), who was named Most Valuable Male Swimmer at last month's Yakult 10th Singapore National Swimming Championships.
There, the 18-year-old ensured qualification for the 50 metres, 100m and 200m backstroke and also the 50m and 100m freestyle events at the SEA Games.
The sport of football is an Under-23 tournament and the Singapore team are eyeing a first gold medal at the biennial Games, which will be extra special if it is achieved on home soil in the 50th year of the nation's independence.
The coach of the Singapore side is former national defender Aide Iskandar, who, for some time now, has had to juggle his roster because of players and NS issues.
He had to grapple with it at the 2013 Myanmar Games - where a team led by national star Hariss Harun returned with bronze - and Aide is grateful for the boost this time round.
"The preparation that we are enjoying now is definitely much, much better," he said, when contacted by The New Paper yesterday.
The Singapore U-23s are currently on a training stint in Turkey as part of their preparations for the Games.
"This is the first time we've had our best U-23s together on an overseas stint in a long time, and it has already been useful. We're able to train twice a day, play against quality opposition and also manage to create a very positive energy in the team," added the former Singapore captain.
"We are very grateful to the Ministry of Defence, Ministry of Community, Culture and Youth, as well as Sport SG for this opportunity."
Aide revealed that seven of his players who have already enlisted have also been granted time off for training.
Two in the men's hockey squad have been deferred, but five others who are currently in NS have struggled to get time off for training and competitions.
"Enrico Marican and Ashriq Ferdaus are two key players for us, and having them able to commit full time to training ahead of the SEA Games goes a long way in helping cement the core of our team," said coach Solomon Casoojee, who is making efforts to get his current full-time NS men to train consistently.
Shafiq Abdul Rashid shuttled between his camp and the Sengkang Stadium at the recently concluded World League Round 2 tournament, where the team finished seventh in a field of eight sides that featured the likes of Malaysia, Poland and Japan.
This article was first published on January 29, 2015.
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