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SINGAPORE — Harry Birtwistle, the 17-year-old Singaporean footballer who signed a professional contract with English Premier League (EPL) club Wolverhampton Wanderers on Wednesday (27 October), is abroad without a valid exit permit and has applied to renounce his Singapore citizenship.
Responding to queries by Yahoo News Singapore, the Ministry of Defence (MINDEF) said on Friday that the parents of Birtwistle - who was born in Singapore in 2003 but left the country four years ago to pursue his ambition of being a professional footballer - had applied to renounce his citizenship.
This was rejected as "renunciation should not be used as a means to evade NS (national service) duties", said MINDEF, which noted that Birtwistle is a Singapore citizen who lived in the city-state and also carries a Singapore passport.
Under the Enlistment Act, all male Singaporeans are required to serve NS at age 18 or older. In this regard, said the ministry, Birtwistle has broken the law.
"In his family's correspondences with Mindef, they had stated that Mr Birtwistle will not be registering for NS. Since then, Mr Birtwistle has failed to register for NS as required. He is also staying overseas without a valid exit permit."
Broken into Wolves' U-23 side, scored twice this season
Birtwistle, whose mother is Singaporean Chinese and father is British, was spotted by Wolves academy staff when he was eight years old during a Wolves international training camp in Singapore.
Despite his young age, he has broken into Wolves' U-23 side and made an impressive start in the current season, scoring a couple of goals from his right wing-back position and catching the eye of the coaching staff.
He has also started training with the first team, alongside seasoned professionals such as Raul Jimenez, Joao Moutinho and Adama Traore.
During an interview with Yahoo News Singapore, Birtwistle said that he misses life in Singapore - the food, the safe environment, and his mother and relatives who are still residing in the city-state.
Birtwistle's situation echoes that of Ben Davis, a former Singapore national age-group footballer who is also playing professional football in England.
Davis, now 20, was born in Phuket to a Thai mother and English father, and moved to Singapore at age five. He became a citizen four years later, and later represented the Republic at the Under-16 and Under-19 levels.
In 2018, he penned a professional contract with then-EPL club Fulham, which has since been relegated to The Championship, becoming the first Singaporean to sign a professional contract with a top-flight English club.
However, Davis' application for NS deferment was rejected by the Mindef, and in February 2019, after he failed to report for NS, he was declared a defaulter.
Davis now plays in the third-tier League One for Oxford United.
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