In: Harris, Izwan; Out: Safuwan, Mahathir

In: Harris, Izwan; Out: Safuwan, Mahathir
LionsXII midfielder Hariss Harun (left) and teammates at Changi Airport on 20 September 2013, before their departure to Alor Star for their Malaysia Cup match against Kedah.

It is the only sport that can rally the nation, fill an entire stadium and send cheers reverberating around heartland estates.

But football was represented by only two individuals in the Sports Excellence Scholarship (spex- Scholarship) announced by the High Performance Sports (HPS) steering committee yesterday.

The duo - Singapore and LionsXII vice-captain Hariss Harun and goalkeeper Izwan Mahbud - were not on the list of 66 full scholarship recipients.

They were among a group of 26 athletes who, in the eyes of the HPS committee, have demonstrated potential to progress to the level of a spexScholar and have been identified for targeted support.

The omission of 22-year-old defensive star Safuwan Baharudin, arguably the top-performing local footballer so far this year, and Mahathir Azeman, a 17-year-old who plays with Brazilian side Boavista, raised some eyebrows.

With a budget of $40 million, the scholarship is run by the Singapore Sports Institute (SSI), and its executive director Fabian Lim said that it is in the process of working out the details for Hariss and Izwan with the Football Association of Singapore (FAS).

"This programme was designed to help athletes train more professionally, but Hariss and Izwan are already professional players," said Lim.

"We are discussing with their coaches, but they can expect perhaps a short stint with a foreign team, or perhaps even a coach brought here to give them additional training."

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