Indian football captain Sunil Chhetri was among the recipients for the Padma Shri awards announced on the eve of the Republic Day on Friday. Chhetri, who is the country’s most capped player, also holds its centre together.
“I’m happy and I’m feeling encouraged and motivated. It’s a huge honor and I cannot explain how it feels in words. I hope to keep working hard and be worthy for the award. There are many people who have worked very hard on my career and to see them happy is a great feeling,” Chhetri.
34-year-old Chhetri is presently busy with the ongoing season 5 of the Indian Super League (ISL) after the return of the Indian football team from the AFC Asian Cup. Many reactions poured in on social media after the announcement, praising the footballer.
Chhetri, who has scored an impressive 67 goals from 107 international appearances, was nominated for the award by Telangana.
He also holds the record for the highest Indian goal scorer in International football with 67 goals and currently sits in second place behind Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo for the highest active goal scorers in International football.
In fact, it was during India’s Asian Cup match against Thailand that he overtook Argentina’s Lionel Messi, who has 65 goals. Sunil’s attacking partner in his playing days and a legend of the sport himself, Bhutia said: “He has been one of the most-sincere and focused footballers I have come across. I have seen him grow in front of my eyes for 15 years now and he has been a thorough professional all throughout.
“What he has accomplished is a result of the sheer hard work put in. He always knew what he wanted and that’s why he was able to evolve as a player.”
Former India International Renedy Singh said “Sunil sets the best example. He has done so well consistently over the past few years. He may not be growing younger, but most significantly, he’s not just there to support. He is there to lead by example.”
Other sportspersons who received the Padma Shri included veteran cricketer Gautam Gambhir, World Championship silver medallist wrestler Bajrang Punia, Harika Dronavalli (Chess), Prashanti Singh (Basketball), Shartha Kamal (Table Tennis), Bombayla Devi Laishram (Archery) and Ajay Thakur (Kabaddi).
Veteran women mountaineer Bachendri Pal received the Padma Bhushan, the second highest civilian award. The 64-year-old mountaineer was the first Indian woman to reach the summit of Mount Everest in 1984.
The Padma Shri is the fourth-highest civilian honor after the Bharat Ratna, Padma Vibhushan and Padma Bhushan.
The government conferred Padma awards to 112 people this year – 4 Padma Vibushan, 14 Padma Bhushan and 94 Padma Shri.