Sports

Will motivate more youngsters to get Padma Shri recognition, says Bembem Devi


For Oinam Bembem Devi, the first Indian woman footballer to be honoured with the Padma Shri award, her work is only just getting started. The former national team captain is keen to use her recognition to help young Indian woman footballers in the country to achieve their dreams.

“My work isn’t done after receiving the Padma Shri. I will continue to work and I will help realise the dream of youngsters to also get the recognition of Padma Shri. I will motivate and share my experience with them,” said Bembem.

She received the award from President Ram Nath Kovind at the Rashtrapati Bhavan earlier his week. “Even before receiving it [Padma Shri], I have been taking responsibility for the sport but now I am getting more respect. I will take more responsibility and continue to sacrifice for women’s football for my state and the country. I will do whatever is asked of me,” she said.

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The upcoming year is a big one for women’s football in the country as it prepares to host the AFC Women’s Asian Cup and the FIFA U-17 Women’s World Cup. The senior team, coached by Thomas Dennerby, has impressed in friendly matches overseas in recent months, in preparation for the Asian Cup. It will next take on heavyweights Brazil (FIFA ranking 7), Chile (37) and Venezuela (56) in an international tournament later this month.

Bembem Devi scored 32 goals in 85 international caps for the national team.   –  AIFF

 

Bembem feels the national team, ranked 57th in the world, is on the right track ahead of the big event, which begins on January 20, due to the quality of the opponents faced in the friendlies.

“There are two months left and a lot depends on the coach. From the goalkeeper to defence to midfield and to attack, there is a process to get their coordination right. They are going to play against Brazil, Chile and Venezuela. Playing against higher-ranked opponents, we will get to know their way of playing and it will help with their confidence playing against stronger teams. Their physical fitness is also getting to a higher level.

“Brazil is ranked seventh in the world. My favourite player is Marta, who will play in it. It will be important to adapt quickly to the level against teams like Brazil. I played against Germany in 1997 and Japan later, and lost on both occasions but it helped build the confidence of the players. Losing or winning is a different matter in these games. It can be inspiring to play in the same pitch as someone like Marta. Even I had said, if I get the chance, I would try to get photos with her but now the younger players will get the chance to play and gain motivation,” said the 41-year-old Bembem, who scored 32 goals in 85 international caps.

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India is grouped alongside China PR, Chinese Taipei and Iran in the Asian Cup. On India’s chances of progressing beyond the group stages, Bembem said, “We can’t predict in football. Brazil [men’s team] lost 7-1 at home in the World Cup against Germany. It can be about luck on your day. The players and coaches need to work and fight hard. We can’t say much about how far they can go. The group we are in, if we fight hard, reaching the knockouts won’t be impossible.”

The women’s top-tier league Indian Women’s League (IWL) has been put on hold since February 2020 after the COVID-19 pandemic. Bembem, who had coached Eastern Sporting Union to the title in 2017, feels the women footballers need help across the board to improve the professional level of the sport.

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“The IWL is very important and the competition should happen more regularly. Because of the pandemic, the IWL didn’t happen but I hear it will happen next year in March. I appeal to the stakeholders, sponsors and private companies to invest more money in women’s football as women can be equally good in sports. The clubs are hesitant in wanting to pay money to women footballers because of their financial situation. Women, like men, are also footballers and they play by the same rules. It [financial help] will help in motivating the girls. They need help in building their careers. We need more tournaments in every state and it needs help with sponsorships, which could help women’s football,” she said.



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