Indian women’s hockey team skipper Rani Rampal, who was conferred with Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award on Saturday, feels overwhelmed that Hockey India provided equal opportunities for both men’s and women’s teams to perform and excel. “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 recognized with the highest award definitely goes to show the sport is moving in the right direction,” Rani said in a Hockey India release.

“I thank the Ministry of Youth Affairs and Sports, SAI and Hockey India for giving us all the opportunities to showcase our potential and at the same time recognizing our efforts,” she added, feeling nostalgic about her journey in the sport so far. For the first time in the history of the National Sports Awards, President Ram Nath Kovind on Saturday virtually conferred the National Sports and Adventure Award 2020.

President presented Rajiv Gandhi Khel Ratna Award, Arjuna Award, Dronacharya Award, Dhyan Chand Award, Tenzing Norgay National Adventure Award and Rashtriya Khel Protsahan Puraskar.

A record 74 athletes of the country were honoured on hockey wizard Major Dhyan Chand’s 115th birth anniversary.

Rani became 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.

“From when I started to now, many things have changed for the good in women’s hockey. Back when I began playing, the women’s team played very few tournaments. We mostly played major events like Commonwealth Games and the Asian Games but now the scenario has changed so much,” Rani said.

“Hockey India and the management ensure we play tournaments round the year which has contributed tremendously towards our performance improvement over the years and has also helped popularize women’s hockey,” she added.

Akashdeep Singh who received the Arjuna award expressed his emotions too.

“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,” the striker said.

Both Rani and Akashdeep Singh are currently part of the on-going National Coaching Camp at Sports Authority of India, Bengaluru Campus.

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 lifetime achievement award. Their contribution towards the growth of the sport in India has been tremendous and I wish both Rani and Akashdeep will use this award as a big motivation to continue to do well in the sport and achieve the team’s goals at Tokyo Olympic Games,” he added.

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