Bembem Devi is the 1st Woman Footballer Named for a Padma Shree

Well known for her role as the Indian women’s football team captain, Oinam Bembem Devi was recently announced as one of the recipients of the eminent Padma Shree award; in 2017, she received the Arjuna award. “I am happy that the government has recognized for 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,” she said.

She made her international debut at the tender age of 15

She recalls watching her first football match and wanting to play the sport to represent her country having no idea that someday, she would win an award for her footballing career. For the last two decades, she has been working hard in the women’s football team and she is glad that her efforts have been recognized. Making her national debut at the tender age of 15 back in 1995, she “donned the national colors until 2016. She captained the national side from 2003 and has won three SAF Cup titles (2010, 2012, 2014) and two South Asian Games gold medals (2010, 2016). She is also a two-time AIFF Women’s Player of the Year (2001, 2013). In 2018, Bembem coached Eastern Sporting Union to the final of the Indian Women’s League. In 2019, she coached U-17 side Cheetahs in the U-17 Women’s Championship held in West Bengal,” reported SportsStar. According to her, even though Indian football has come a long way from its former days, but there is still a lot of room for improvement and she hopes that positive changes will be taking place soon. 

She hopes that young girls in India will look to her for inspiration

“In the IWL, the more matches the players play, the better it will be for them. Playing more matches develops your game and increases your confidence. It’s a 12-team league now but I am sure more teams will join later,” she added. Until today, Bembem Devi has been a great role for young women in India who are pursuing the sport for a number of years and the Padma Shri will prove to them that women’s football is not something that is marginal in India, but a sport that demands talent and deserves recognition. “This is a recognition to women’s football in India. This is an eye-opener to all who believe you can’t go places playing women’s football in India. I hope this will inspire all the girls and their parents to believe you the ‘Beautiful game’ can make you reach higher echelons. This is the year of the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2020. This Padma Shri award is for the next generation of girls who will play, or take up the sport some years later,” she said. Even though her family was first apprehensive about her sporting career, they understood her passion for football and today, the Padma Shri has honored her for the career choice she made, in spite it being a hard one. 

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