Oinam Bembem Devi, the flag-bearer of Indian women's football for over two decades, on Tuesday dedicated her Arjuna Award to the women of the country who are trying to break the stereotypes. Bembem Devi, who represented India in 85 games and scored 32 goals, retired from international football last year during the South Asian Games in Shillong. She further added that the award was for her mother, teammates and coaches and also expressed gratitude to the All-India Football Federation (AIFF) for their continuous support.
"I dedicate this to all the women in the country who overcome hurdles every day in the sociological context to excel in their respective fields. This award is for all of them as much it is for my mom, all my teammates and coaches.
"I also need to thank AIFF for the continuous support," Bembem Devi was quoted by the AIFF website as saying.
Bembem Devi made her international debut in 1995 and is closely associated with the AIFF for spreading awareness about women's football in India.
Asked how much her Arjuna recognition would help to enhance the women's game in the country, the Manipuri said, "As I said, there are sociological obstacles in India which sometimes disallow girls to play football.
"I feel my award will encourage parents to send the girl child to play football as now they understand that you can win an Arjuna Award by playing women's football in India."
Bembem Devi, who once took back her retirement, eventually bowed out on a high after winning the SAF Games gold medal in Shillong in February 2015.
"After my initial retirement, I was floored when AIFF called me up and requested me to take back my retirement. 'You deserve a better farewell' I was told.
"I wasn't sure, but they insisted. It eventually came when we won the SAF Games gold medal before a packed house in Shillong. I am not sure if this has ever happened in Indian football ever. Thank you AIFF for giving me the honour," an emotional Bembem Devi said.
Talking further about the Arjuna Award, she said, "It is one of the highest recognitions for any sportsperson in India. Right from childhood I have heard about the Arjuna Award.
"No sportsperson ever plays for any recognition but at times, it can be so satisfying. My sacrifice over the past two decades has not gone waste."
Asked if she had any message for the girls, Bembem Devi said, "Follow your dream and always believe in yourself. There is no alternate to hard work. Aim for the sky and you will achieve it."
(With PTI inputs)