Key takeaways: From Japan’s newly formed women’s professional football league


Back in the summer of 2011, the Japanese women’s football team scripted history by becoming the first-ever Asian nation to win the women’s world cup. Since that glorious event, a decade has passed by. However, this year marks a significant change for women footballers across Japan as they take their first steps to kick start their very own professional women’s league.

As its name suggests (Women Empowerment League) or ‘WE League’, the league is a testament to starting a professional revolution in women’s football across the island nation. To date, there has never been a professional women’s football league in the country. However, despite these issues, the females have fared much better than their male counterparts.

The Nadeshiko League, the top flight division for women footballers, consists of 10 clubs and has been active since its inaugural season back in 1989. The 2011 women’s world cup team consisted of 17 players plying their trade for various clubs in this league. Despite these successes, the league is a semi-professional league as most of the players juggle football and their respective careers. In addition to that, the salaries and wages received does not satisfy them to focus on one career path solely.

About Japan’s newly formed professional league:

To tackle these prevalent problems and create an impact beyond football is the primary reason for the league to be initiated. Further, the league aims to promote women’s empowerment and deal with numerous stigmas and social challenges. The statistics surrounding the league as it prepares for its curtain raiser season are promising.

To begin with, the newly formed WE League will become Japan’s top-flight league above the already established Nadeshiko League. Also, every club needs to sign a minimum of 15 players on professional contracts, including at least five players out of them making $50,000 annually. Besides this, 50% of women must comprise each club’s personnel. This will include decision-makers and coaching staff. In addition, each club will also have at least one women on its board of directors.

Key takeaways: From Japan's newly formed women's professional football league np file 44554 870x489 1 1
Kikuko Okajima, Chairwoman of Women Empowerment League

Can a similar model be implemented for our blue tigresses in our very own Hero IWL? Or what could be the significant learnings from this ecosystem?

Here are three key takeaways which AIFF could apply in our women’s football.

Competitive salaries and wages:

Hero IWL (Indian women’s league) since its establishment has been given the status of a professional league. However, barring a few players in every club most of the other players fall under amateur or semi-professional categories. Also, the salaries and wages received by them are not competitive. For example, The current Indian women’s team captain Ashalata Devi told Outlook last year, “It’s unfortunate that we have to bargain and demand. It feels that we are vegetables in the market. So they would bargain for a small amount. Many of us have faced this kind of situation. Even I sometimes think that if I were a male player, I would have got a handsome salary.” She further added, “Many players don’t even get Rs 1 lakh in a season.

The girls do equal hard work as the male players, but where is the reward?”. These are some of the vast obstacles faced by our women footballers and female soccer players across the globe. Adapting and executing a similar Japanese template could answer most of these questions and enable more women to play an active role in the on-field and off-field matters of the club.

Key takeaways: From Japan's newly formed women's professional football league DSC 0435 800x500 1
Gokulam Kerala current Hero IWL Champions

Driving commercial revenue and attracting star names:

Today the biggest challenge faced by Indian sports, except cricket is to bring sponsors and brands on board. The sport of football is no different. The women’s game in our country has been lagging in this aspect for a long time. Having a professional ecosystem will assist our women’s footballing pyramid in gaining sponsors and brands and enabling them to attract top women players of the game from across the world. This would further result in the development of our local players and provide a crucial assist to raise the standard and profile of women’s football in our diverse country. On the whole, generating commercial revenue will become easier and would place our clubs in a healthier financial state.

Breaking stereotypes:

This is an age-old problem in our society, which our females have persisted for a very long time. Despite all the social challenges, women continue to rise and inspire in various fields. Having a professional league will help change the outlook about women’s role in sports and create a platform for women, in general, to embrace sports as a part of their daily lives. Further, it would act as a catalyst for promoting female social participation and enhancing diversities and choices.

Key takeaways: From Japan's newly formed women's professional football league media handler
Bala Devi India’s first professional women footballer. Currently playing in Scotland for Rangers F.C.

Follow our website for all the latest updates on Indian football.