Oinam Bembem Devi, the first Indian woman footballer to be honoured with the Padma Shri, is keen to use the recognition to help young Indian women footballers in the country.
“My work isn’t done after receiving the Padma Shri. I will continue to work and help realise the dream of youngsters to get the Padma Shri. I will motivate and share my experiences with them,” said Bembem.
“Even before receiving it [Padma Shri], I have been taking responsibility for the sport. I will take more responsibility and continue to make sacrifices for women’s football,” she added.
On the right track
Bembem feels the National team, ranked 57th in the world, is on the right track ahead of the AFC Asian Championship which India is slated to host from January 20. Thomas Denerby’s side will take on heavyweights Brazil (FIFA ranking No. 7), Chile (37), and Venezuela (56) in an international tournament later this month as preparation for the Asian event.
“There are two months left and a lot depends on the coach. From the goalkeeper, defenders, midfielders and strikers, there is a process to get the coordination right. Playing against higher-ranked and stronger opponents, we will get to know their way of playing.
“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 play and get photos with her. Now the younger players get a chance to play and gain motivation,” she said.
On India’s chances of progressing beyond the group stages, the former India skipper said, “We can’t predict in football. Brazil [men] lost 1-7 at home in the World Cup to Germany. From the group we are in, if we fight hard it won’t be impossible to reach the knockouts.”
The women’s top-tier league — Indian Women’s League (IWL) — has been put on hold since February 2020 due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Bembem, who had coached Eastern Sporting Union to the title in 2017, said, “The IWL is very important and should happen more regularly. I hear it [IWL] will take place in March next year. 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. We need more tournaments in every State and it needs support from sponsors,” she said.