Bembem Devi: Grateful that my contribution to women’s football is recognised

Oinam Bembem Devi was named among the six sportspersons to be conferred with the Padma Shri, which is the fourth highest civilian award in India.

Bembem Devi represented India for more than two decades and also captained the side during that stint. (File Photo)   -  AIFF Media

Former Indian national team captain Oinam Bembem Devi was announced as one of the recipients of the Padma Shri award on Saturday. A flagbearer of Indian women’s football for over two decades, Bembem Devi was also conferred with the Arjuna award in 2017.

Delighted with the Padma Shri recognition, 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.

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“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 said.

“I worked hard for it and as I played for the senior team, I realised that winning medals is very tough in football. I played over 20 years for India, and when the government acknowledged my contribution through the Arjuna award, I felt satisfied,” she added.

Making her national team debut at the age of 15 in 1995, Bembem donned the national colours 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. 

The Indian football legend believes women’s football has grown in India but there remains scope for improvement. “Women’s football has grown over the years in India and it can grow further. When I was invited for the inauguration of the Indian Women’s League, I was pleased to hear from the players that they are inspired by me.

“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 said of the premier football tournament for women in India. 

With India playing host to the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup this year, Bembem has pinned her hopes on the home side. “We can expect more development at the grassroots and the level of women’s football in India after the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. And from what I have watched, the U-17 team is very hardworking. I believe they can progress to the Round-of-16 in the World Cup. I hope the girls can adapt to the new coach’s (Thomas Dennerby) system.”

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