New Delhi: Oinam Bembem Devi, affectionately known as 'Durga of Indian Football', became the first Indian woman footballer and the seventh overall to receive the prestigious Padma Shri Award on Monday.
Bembem Devi has been conferred Arjun Award in 2017 for her significant contribution in Indian women's football. Making her international debut at the age of 15, she went to captain the Indian team that emerged winners at the 11th South Asian Games held in Bangladesh in 2010 and the 2012 SAFF Women's Championship held in Sri Lanka in the year 2012.
Praful Patel, President, All India Football Federation (AIFF) in his statement, said: "Congratulations! It's an extremely proud moment for Indian Football. Bembem Devi has been a role model for Indian Football and won so many laurels for India over the years. I hope more girls draw inspiration from her and take Indian Women's Football to greater heights."
In his statement, Kushal Das, General Secretary, All India Football Federation said: "Bembem is a living legend and has been the flagbearer of Indian Women's football over the years. 2022 is the year of Women's Football in India as we are hosting the AFC Women's Asian Cup India 2022, and then the FIFA U17 FIFA World Cup India 2022".
"I am confident this Award will provide the necessary fillip to inspire the next generation and generate interest among all stakeholders. Congratulations!" he added.
Das also mentioned Bembem's contribution to the sport as a coach after hanging her boots. "Post-retirement, Bembem has been transferring her knowledge as a coach, having been a part of Indian National age-group teams, and also at the club level. I wish her all the best for her professional and personal life."
Bembem had expressed her gratitude when she was announced to be the recipient of Padma Shri in January, earlier this year. She said, "I am happy that the government has recognised the several years of my contribution to the senior women's national team. I am glad that the sacrifices I made for my career have resulted in something big like this".
"When I started playing football, I had no clue about these awards. All I can recall is that when I first saw a women's football match, I wanted to do something similar by representing my country," she added.
In the process, Bembem joins the elite club of Late Gostho Paul, Late Sailen Manna, Chuni Goswami, PK Banerjee, Bhaichung Bhutia and current Indian Men's National Team captain Sunil Chhetri as Indian Footballers who won the prestigious Padma Shri Award.