"I got the Khel Ratna Award because I have been playing for 19 years" — Sunil Chhetri
On 80 goals, Sunil is currently tied with Lionel Messi at the second place in the goalscorers list among active footballers at the International level.
Indian Senior Men's National Team captain Sunil Chhetri received the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award from honourable President of India Shri Ram Nath Kovind on November 13, 2021. The function was held at the Rashtrapati Bhawan.
Sunil on 80 goals is currently tied with Lionel Messi at the second place in the goalscorers list among active footballers at the International level, with Cristiano Ronaldo leading on 115 goals. He had earlier been conferred with the Padma Shri Award and the Arjuna Award.
"One of the primary reasons why I got the Khel Ratna Award is because I have been playing for 19 years. I want to thank each one of the masseurs, physios and doctors. You superstars have been the main reason why I could be on the pitch," Sunil averred... "There have so many time when I thought I couldn't, but you guys made it possible for me," he added.
"I also need to thank all my clubs, my teammates – both at the clubs and the National Team, the fans and the family. All these years you have suffered with me, rejoiced with me, you were there at with me at every ups and downs, you dreamt with me – and I very happily share this Award with each and every one of you," Sunil expressed.
For the record, Sunil is the first Indian Footballer to have received the Award – the highest Award for a sportsman in India.
In his statement, AIFF President Mr. Praful Patel said: "Congratulations! No one deserves it more than Sunil. He has been the flag bearer and a role model for Indian Football, having won so many laurels for his country and all his clubs over the years. I wish him all the best in his future endeavours, and look forward together to him leading us to unprecedented glories in near future."
Mr. Kushal Das, General Secretary, All India Football Federation in his statement said: "My heartiest congratulations to him. The Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award is the pinnacle of all sporting awards in the country and Sunil deserves the Award. He is a living legend, and the icon whom all fans look up to. I wish him all the best for his professional and personal life. You have been a true flag-bearer for Indian Football."
"I expect this award to be a motivation to all other Indian footballers, and inspire them to reach higher echelons in their career," the General Secretary added.
Besides Sunil, Neeraj Chopra, Ravi Kumar, Lovlina Borgohain, Sreejesh PR, Avani Lekhara, Sumit Antil, Pramod Bhagat, Krishna Nagar, Manish Narwal, Manpreet Singh and Mithali Raj were also awarded the Major Dhyan Chand Khel Ratna Award.