Oinam Bembem Devi, the first woman footballer in India to have been awarded a Padma Shri, on Monday dedicated the award to women’s football in the country and felt that it would inspire several girls and their parents to take up the sport.

Bembem Devi, the former India captain, has been a torchbearer of Indian women’s football for over two decades. She was also conferred the Arjuna award in 2017.

“This is a recognition to women’s football in India. This is an eyeopener to all who believe you can’t go places playing women’s football in India. I hope this will inspire all the girls and their parents to believe the ‘beautiful game’ can make you reach higher echelons,” the 39-year-old told AIFF.

“This is the year of the FIFA U-17 World Cup India 2020. This Padma Shri award is for the next generation of girls who will play, or take up the sport some years later,” she added.

When asked if being awarded the Padma Shri would change her as a person, she replied: “Not at all. Professionally, however, it feels nice when your contribution gets recognised. I need to thank the All India Football Federation for their support and push.”

“I have been associated with the U-15 and U-16 National teams as an Assistant Coach and was also one of the Coaches for the U-17 Women’s tournament in Kalyani,” she added.