Indian hockey veteran P.R. Sreejesh and captain of the Indian men’s football team, Sunil Chhetri, were adjudged Sportsmen of the Year in Team Sports at the 2023 Sportstar Aces Awards in Mumbai on Monday.
In January 2022, Indian hockey goalkeeper P. R. Sreejesh became only the second Indian to be named World Games athlete of the year. But while that award owed mostly to his performances in the previous year, he would go on to be named goalkeeper of the year by the International Hockey Federation (FIH) in October last year.
“It is amazing to be here with all these legends sitting here. Odisha has always supported us...thank you for all your support. Thank you very much for this great award. On behalf of my team, I would like to thank you all once again,” Sreejesh said.
The year would have further milestones for Sreejesh, whose performance under the bar helped India win silver at the Commonwealth Games. The 34-year-old also became the first Indian goalkeeper to play 250 matches for India, winning his 250th India cap in the Pro League match against Spain.
Poster boy of Indian football
Chhetri continues to be the poster boy of Indian football after spending more than 17 years with the senior national men’s team. The 38-year-old Indian captain showed why he is still indispensable for his side, scoring four goals to help India secure its consecutive qualification to the main round of the 2023 AFC Asian Cup. Chhetri is a legend in his own right, having played at the top level for a considerable period. He has had remarkable success with some of the biggest clubs of Indian football.
“It is amazing to see my childhood heroes Mr. Anand, Mr. Gavaskar, Leander Paes, Shyam Thapa sir. My father’s childhood hero Bhaichung Bhutia. I want to wish all the important stakeholders of sports in this room all the very best. My vision and dream of seeing India become a sporting culture, of every kid getting identified at the right time and we finally being able to use the 1.4 billion people, for which we are blamed for by the whole world, and utilise them in the proper way... I want to wish all the athletes here an injury-free year, all the very best in what you do. I keep watching your videos and get inspired a lot.
“I got this award because 23 boys play very hard in my team. I do the simplest job, I am just the icing on the cake. I do not work that hard. I am old now, I just stand there and score a goal. I am not trying to be modest, I am being honest. I take care of my body, I eat well, I sleep a lot. At the end of the day, I pull rank, I stay there, I score goals and I get the awards and they don’t,” Chhetri said.
Having scored 84 goals in 131 appearances for the country, Chhetri is the third-highest international goalscorer among active players, behind only Cristiano Ronaldo and Lionel Messi. His tally of international goals is currently the fifth-highest of all time. Sunil is also the most capped player and the all-time top goalscorer of the Indian football team.
Legendary India cricketer Sunil Gavaskar, former India hockey captain M. M. Somaya, chess great Viswanathan Anand, former India football skipper Bhaichung Bhutia, Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra, Olympic gold medallist Abhinav Bindra and Olympians Anjali Bhagwat and Aparna Popat are the members of the Sportstar Aces 2023 jury.
The event is supported by IDFC First Bank, Indian Oil, India Cements, United India, Ramaiah University, Experimenta Science Center GD Naidu Charity, Finolex Pipes, LIC, BPCL, Samsonite, Big Basket, Nippon Paint, CRICHQ, Wordswork, NewsX and Casagrand.