The talented Indian footballer, Oinam Bembem Devi, has added another feather in her cap. The legendary athlete has been conferred with the Padma Shri award for the year. Thus, becoming the first woman footballer to get it. A flag-bearer of Indian women’s football for over two decades, Bembem was also conferred with the Arjuna award in 2017. She is former India captain and the industrious midfielder who hails from Manipur.

Talking about her early days in the football field, Bembem Devi revealed that she used to play with the boys and to be given a chance to play she called herself Bobo or Amko or various other names. She was a girl and wanted to be taken seriously in the field, so she would disguise herself as a boy and play.  “When I was some nine years old I had changed my name to Bobo, Amko to play football with the boys. Had I mentioned that my name was Bembem they would have understood I was a girl, and not taken me in their team to play,” she said, News18 reported.

The first woman footballer to have been awarded the Padma Shri, Bembem Devi said she used to disguise herself as a boy to play football.

Before Bembem Sunil Chhetri was the last footballer to win Padma Shri, in 2019.

Key Takeaways:

  • Former India captain Oinam Bembem Devi is the recipient of the Padma Shri award this year.
  • Bembem Devi is the first woman footballer to have been awarded the Padma Shri.
  • “This is an eye opener to all who believe you can’t go places playing women’s football in India,” said the Padma Shri awardee.

“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,” expressed Bembem.

“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,” said the Padma Shri awardee

“ I am glad that the sacrifices I made for my career have resulted in this,” Bembem said, The Hindu reported.

First memory

“When I started playing football, I had no clue about these awards. All I can recall is when I first saw a women’s football match, I wanted to represent 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 for over 20 years for India, so when the government acknowledged my contribution with the Arjuna award, I felt satisfied,” Bembem added.

Bembem won the prestigious Arjuna Award, becoming the second Indian woman footballer to receive the  Award, since Shanti Mullick in 1983.

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Recognised and Honoured

Talking about being named in the league of big athletes, including the late Sailen Manna, Chuni Goswami, P K Banerjee and Bhaichung Bhutia, besides Chhetri, Bembem said, “They are real legends, people whom I have heard about, and looked up to during my career. But I feel this is just the beginning for women’s football. I see more women footballers coming up to join the club.” On the prestigious honour, she said, “It was a moment of immense satisfaction — the moment when all your pains, sacrifices, hard work combined together and came in a package to bring the Padma Shri. This motivates me for my future assignments, endeavours.”

She debuted in international games in 1995 and made her national debut at the age of 15. Bembem 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 led the Eastern Sporting Union to the final of the Indian Women’s League as a coach. In 2019, she coached the under-17 side Cheetahs in the Women’s Championship held in West Bengal.

Feature Image Credit: Indian Football/Twitter

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