Oinam Bembem Devi. (Image credit: AIFF) Photograph:( PTI )
Padma Shri recipient Oinam Bembem Devi said she is very excited as India will be hosting the AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022. She also gave her valuable opinion on what needs to be done to promote the sport in India at the grassroots level
Oinam Bembem Devi, the first Indian woman footballer to have received the prestigious Padma Shri Award, said that she is excited for AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022 being hosted in India, as players will get a golden opportunity to play in front of the home crowd, a proud moment for their families as well.
AFC Women's Asian Cup 2022 is scheduled to commence on January 20 next year and the qualified teams include reigning champions Japan, Australia, China PR, hosts India, Indonesia, the Islamic Republic of Iran, Korea Republic, Philippines, Thailand and Vietnam.
During a virtual interaction, Bembem Devi replied to WION's question over her excitement about the tournament being held in India. She said, "I am very excited as I have played for 21 years, but didn't get a chance to play AFC in India. All the players in the women's team are so excited as their families and relatives can watch their daughters play."
"Playing in our own country and in our own ground give a massive boost. When we go to other countries, we don't get many supporters. Playing in India means, the family can watch, the relative can watch and supporters will be a motivational factor."
Bembem Devi, who has been a flagbearer of promoting football in India over the years, also said that she is also very excited because hosting the tournament will be a great opportunity to promote women's football across India, adding that she is "very happy".
The 41-year-old Bembem Devi became the seventh overall to receive the Padma Shri Award, joining the elite club of Late Gostho Paul, Late Sailen Manna, Chuni Goswami, PK Banerjee, Bhaichung Bhutia and current Indian Men's National Team captain Sunil Chhetri as Indian footballers who won the prestigious award.
Padma Shri is the fourth-highest civilian award given by the Government of India, after the Bharat Ratna, the Padma Vibhushan and the Padma Bhushan.
Bembem Devi has been a role model for Indian football, who is doing her bit in promoting the sport throughout the country. Winning Padma Shri will boost her efforts to take Indian Women's football to greater heights as she will get recognition and more girls draw inspiration from her.
While replying to WION's question, Bembem Devi gave her valuable opinion on what needs to be done to bring about considerable changes in terms of promoting the sport to the grassroots level and encouraging women participation.
She said, "In India, the Grassroots Football Development programme is already underway." Giving an example Manipur, from where she hails, the veteran footballer said, "In my state, a six-month-long Grassroots Football Development was scheduled. Young boys and girls participated."
In India, Grassroots Football aim is to increase participation for children, youth, amateurs, veterans in the sport. The programme is also meant for those with physical disabilities, cerebral palsy, visually impaired and even the socially disadvantaged.
The AIFF Grassroots programme also looks after improving the quality and quantity of football and popularising it through grassroots. AIFF's Grassroots Development programme was kicked-off in December 2012 and ever since it has seen a rapid expansion.