Indian women's hockey captain Rani Rampal, who was on Saturday conferred with the prestigious Khel Ratna Award, has said that she feels overwhelmed that women's hockey in the country is getting equal importance as that of the men.
Rani has become the first Indian women's hockey player to receive the prestigious Khel Ratna award. She is only the third hockey player after Dhanraj Pillay and Sardar Singh to receive the highest award for sporting excellence.
"Over the past one week, since my name was officially announced for the Khel Ratna Award, I have been reflecting back on my journey so far and it makes me feel overwhelmed that women's hockey gets equal importance as the men's team and a women's player being recognised with the highest award definitely goes to show the sport is moving in the right direction," said Rani.
She further said that a lot has changed over the past decade in Indian hockey.
"From when I started to now, many things have changed for the good in women's hockey. Back when I began playing, women's team played very few tournaments," said the Indian captain.
"We mostly played major events like Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games but now the scenario has changed so much. Hockey India and the management ensure we play tournaments round the year which has contributed tremendously towards our performance improving over the years and has also helped popularise women's hockey," she added.
While Rani was conferred with the Khel Ratna Award, Akashdeep Singh received the Arjuna Award in a virtual ceremony. Both are currently part of the on-going national coaching camp at SAI Bengaluru campus.
"I thank everyone who has been part of my journey so far. I have been very fortunate to play for my country along with some of the greatest players in the sport. I also thank Hockey India and SAI for their support and ensuring we are provided with the best facilities to train," said Akashdeep.
Congratulating the winners, Gyanendro Ningombam, Hockey India Officiating President said, "On behalf of Hockey India, I congratulate Romesh Pathania for winning the Dronacharya award (lifetime achievement), Rani for winning the Khel Ratna Award, Akashdeep Singh and Deepika Thakur for winning the Arjuna award. I also congratulate Jude Felix for winning the Dronacharya award and Ajit Singh for winning the Dhyan Chand life-time achievement award."
Hockey India Secretary General Rajinder Singh too congratulated the awardees. "I am very happy that a women's player has been recognised with the Khel Ratna award for the very first time in the history of the sport. I am confident this recognition will motivate an entire new generation of women to take up the sport professionally."