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. Chhetri has scored an impressive 67 goals from 107 international appearances.
"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 of it (the award). There are many people who have worked very hard on my career and to see them happy is a great feeling," Chhetri told Sportstar.
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.
Feel proud to have a friend, colleague, a brother who is a Padma Shri Awardee. Have seen the hard work, dedication & simplicity for the past 12 yrs. Thoroughly deserving @chetrisunil11 #CaptainFantastic #SC11 #PadmaAwards #PadmaShri pic.twitter.com/nxL3N7xvBc— Mandar Tamhane (@MandarTamhane1) January 25, 2019
Last year, Chhetri hit the limelight after his appeal on Twitter resulted in thousands rushing to watch India's match against Kenya at the Intercontinental Cup 2018. India won the match and his tweet was later recognised as the most "retweeted tweet" of the year from India.
All the 7,000 tickets at the Mumbai Football Arena were sold out days ahead of the match after Chhetri's appeal went viral.
In his video message, Chhetri had said: "Abuse us, criticise us but please come to watch the Indian national team play. To all of you, who have lost hope or don't have any hope in Indian football, we request you to come and watch us in the stadium."
Other sports persons 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 recieved the Padma Bhushan, the second highest cilivian 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 honour 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.