Seasoned goalkeeper PR Sreejesh, who played a crucial role as India men's team claimed a first Olympic medal in over four decades when it won bronze at last years Olympic Games in Tokyo, has been named as The World Games Athlete of the Year for 2021. In a global fan vote conducted on TheWorldGames.org, Sreejesh finished well clear at the top of the 24-strong nomination list, with his tally of 1,27,647 votes being almost twice as many as the second-placed athlete, Spain's Sport Climbing ace Albert Ginés Lopez, who garnered 67,428 votes.
Sreejesh becomes the second hockey player to win the award, following in the footsteps of compatriot and India women's captain Rani Rampal, who took the 2019 prize, the FIH said in a release on Monday.
Speaking about the Award, the shot-stopper -- who was also voted as FIH Goalkeeper of the Year for 2021 -- said: "I'm very honoured to win this award. First of all, a big thank you to FIH for nominating me for this award, and secondly thanks to all the Indian hockey lovers around the world, who voted for me.
"By getting nominated I did my part, but the rest was done by the fans and hockey lovers. So, this award goes to them, and I think they deserve this award more than me. It's a big moment for Indian Hockey as well because everyone in the hockey community, all the hockey federations around the world voted for me, so it's great to see that support from the hockey family," Sreejesh, a veteran of 244 international matches, was quoted as saying by the FIH.
The three-time Olympian further added, "Also, I am a person who doesn't believe in individual awards, especially when you are part of a team. It's not only the team of 33 players, but you have a lot of people involved behind as well, there's coaching staff, there's support staff, there's a great association like Hockey India who is supporting you a lot, there's Sports Authority of India (SAI), who are providing you with all the world-class facilities to train, there's Odisha Government whose unwavering support helps the sport grow and flourish and there's India Olympic Association (IOA) as well, who're taking care of you really well. So, it's a collective effort of a nation to get this kind of recognition."
FIH Chief Executive Officer Thierry Weil said: "On behalf of the global hockey community, I'd like to wholeheartedly congratulate PR Sreejesh for this magnificent achievement. This is a great recognition for him, for his team and for hockey as a whole. We also extend our sincerest thanks to all fans who voted for him. Athletes are the best ambassadors of our sport and India's goalkeeper certainly is a leader in this field too. We look forward to seeing him in action again in just a few days for the third edition of the FIH Hockey Pro League!"
Congratulating Sreejesh, Hockey India President Gyanendro Ningombam said, "On behalf of Hockey India, I congratulate Sreejesh for winning the prestigious World Games Athlete of the Year 2021 Award. This is a very proud and special moment for India as he became only the second Indian athlete to win this honour. I would like to thank FIH, the hockey community around the world, and of course, all his fans for supporting him and voting him to win this award. It's a big achievement for him as well as to Indian hockey."
The World Games is a multi-sport event staged every four years by the International World Games Association with the support of the International Olympic Committee. The World Games are staged over a period of 11 days, with more than 30 sports in the programme.
Indoor Hockey was featured as an invitational sport at The World Games in 2005, which took place in Duisburg, Germany. Hockey will have a presence with sports demonstrations during The World Games 2022, which takes place in Birmingham, the USA between July 7-17, 2022.