The face of Indian football, Sunil Chhetri, is nominated for this year’s Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna by the All India Football Federation (AIFF). The Khel Ratna is the country’s most prestigious honour in the field of sports.
Parallelly, Indian women’s football team striker Bala Devi has been nominated for the Arjuna Award. The forward currently plays for the Scottish Women’s Premier League’s Rangers side.
“We have recommended Sunil Chhetri for the Khel Ratna and Bala Devi for Arjuna Award,” said an anonymous official source. It went on to state that Gabriel Joseph had been recommended for the Dronacharya Award.
Sunil Chhetri and Bala Devi’s career achievements
Sunil Chhetri has been on fire for his country in the past few seasons, reaching an Indian record total of 118 international appearances for the country and scoring 74 times in that period. He has also been equally impactful for his club, Bengaluru FC, with 90 goals and 14 assists in 182 appearances for the club.
Recently, he scored against Bangladesh in a 2-0 win in the World Cup Qualifiers, which took him to second on the highest international scorers list among active footballers, but has since been overtaken by UAE’s Ali Mabkhout and Argentine Lionel Messi. On top of the list is Portuguese legend Cristiano Ronaldo with 109 goals.
Chhetri is no stranger to awards, however, having received the country’s fourth-highest civilian honour, the Padma Shri, in 2019 and the Arjuna Award in 2019.
31-year-old Bala Devi became the first Indian woman footballer to play for a top-flight professional league in Europe when she joined Rangers of Glasgow in January last year. She has played more than 50 matches for the country since 2010, and will play an important role in the national team during the AFC Women’s Asian Cup to be hosted by the country next year.
For the country, Devi has won the gold medal in both the SAFF Women’s Championship (2010, 2014, 2016) and the South Asian Games (2010, 2016, 2019) thrice, also winning AIFF Women’s Player of the Year twice (2014, 2015)