Padma Shri Bembem Devi had given 21 years of her life to the Indian women’s football team and even after retirement, she’s been working to develop players as a coach. Bembem is fondly known as the ‘Durga of Indian Football’ and for her immense contribution to women sports in general, she was bestowed with the Padma Shri by President Ram Nath Kovind on November 8. Bembem expressed her elation over receiving the award and said in a media interaction, “I received so much love in the state after Padma Shri, never before had I felt so much adulation.”
Bembem was appreciative of the efforts made by the All India Football Federation (AIFF) to improve the women’s game in the country and said, “In our times, we did not have branded kits like the present team, we travelled by bus or by train and not by air. We did not have a lot of exposure trips like the ones they have now and we did not have so many friendly matches. A lot of changes have happened due to AIFF’s efforts. IWL (Indian Women’s League) has also come.”
However, she called on the various stakeholders, private companies, sponsors and big clubs in the system to support and motivate the women footballers more and start paying them worth their efforts.
“IWL should be held and the stakeholders, private companies and big clubs should pay the girls well to play. People don’t want to pay girls and that’s not nice. The rules and time of the game is the same for both boys and girls, so girls should get good pay too.
“The players who play in IWL, the clubs try to get salaries down to Rs 20,0000 and general Rs 50,000-60,000 salary is also nothing. The girls have to be motivated. More tournaments should also be sponsored in states. Right now we only have the IWL and the Senior Nationals and we need more tournaments for development of the players,” she stated.
Bembem wants more people to get involved in the conversations around women’s football in the country and feels Asian Cup can be a stepping stone for that.
“We didn’t qualify for the Asian Cup but now, we are going directly to the final round as hosts so the players have to perform and they are working hard. Earlier, people didn’t know women footballers but now they do. People in Manipur are talking a lot about the women’s game but it that starts happening in other states, it will be good,” she said.
Bembem is from the Northeastern state of Manipur, a part of the country which is known for its sporting prowess. Asked how the Northeast produces so many athletes and particularly women athletes, Bembem said it’s all about the passion.
“Northeastern athletes focus on their own game. Like I dreamt of playing for 20 years and I had that passion. Northeastern women have that passion and fire to go for their dreams,” she expressed.