Bembem Devi has come a long way since her early days of training at the United Pioneers Club in Imphal. She has gone on to don the blue of India for a staggering 21 years, won an Arjuna Award, and most recently was felicitated with the prestigious Padma Shri by the Indian Government, the fourth-highest civilian award in the country.
However, in a recent press conference organized by AIFF, the stalwart made it clear that all her success needs to be channeled into the upliftment of the game in our country, where women’s football has been largely swept under the rug until very recently.
2022 promises to be a big year for Women’s football in the country, with India hosting the AFC Women’s Asian Cup as well as the FIFA U17 Women’s World Cup. Bembem, fondly named ‘The Durga of Indian Football” spoke about the tournaments, the issue of the pay gap, the Indian Women’s League (IWL), and more.
“Winning the Padma Shri means a lot to me. It is the fourth-highest civilian award in our country. Youngsters who are into football will see that ‘Didi’ has played 21 years for India and has become the first woman from the sport to win the award. This will give them courage and hopefully boost their confidence ahead of some important tournaments which are coming up.”
The AFC Women’s Asian Cup, one of the two big tournaments hosted by India next year kicks off on 20th January across 3 venues in the state of Maharashtra. New women’s senior team head coach Thomas Dennerby has been eager in playing a lot of friendlies, often against strong sides.
Speaking about the senior team’s preparations, Bembem Devi said, “I’ve been intently following the side. They have been playing a lot of football recently against good sides. The cooperation between the players will depend upon how confident they are on the pitch, which automatically comes after facing tough sides. The coach will tactically teach the team as much as he can but only confidence can help them stand up against the big teams.“
The national team is set to play World No.7 Brazil, Chile, and Venezuela later this month as they continue their preparations for the Asian Cup.
“It is extremely crucial that we play against higher-ranked nations like these. Winning or losing is not the be-all and end-all of football. Teams will improve in their quality, their confidence, and their temperament only when they play against tougher sides. This is a great opportunity for the girls to test themselves against the very best.”
Having been an integral part of the national team setup for more than two decades, Bembem Devi has been exposed to the long journey that women’s football has made. Speaking about how times have changed, the icon opined, “We did not have branded kits like the girls do today, we mostly traveled by buses or trains and not airplanes. There was very little exposure that our performances got.”
“A lot has changed over the last 15-20 years, owing to the performance of the girls, we have made a lot of progress. The IWL is also a very important development. We need young girls to play as much football as possible, state leagues and tournaments need to be introduced. AIFF has been working very hard to organize and participate in tournaments where the girls play tougher oppositions to improve their football.”
Bembem Devi continues to be an inspiration to youngsters all across India who want to make their name in the sport. Her natural leadership qualities, strict sense of discipline, and passion for the game set her apart from everyone else.
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