As global interest in women’s football approaches fever pitch, former champions Japan are eyeing a return to glory with the country’s first professional league for female players.
A decade since winning the 2011 Women’s World Cup, Japan has fallen behind, even as the sport becomes more popular and lucrative elsewhere.
But the new league’s organisers hope it will bring prestige and fresh talent to Japanese clubs when it kicks off in September, tapping into growing enthusiasm across the region ahead of the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand.
“We had a sense of urgency, as we felt that Japan would be left behind globally if it didn’t go pro now,” said Kikuko Okajima, chair of the WE League — short for Women Empowerment. “We’re in the middle of a pandemic, but we decided not to delay the tournament and to launch the pro-league.”
The national team — nicknamed “Nadeshiko” after a pink flower that symbolises femininity in Japan — won silver at the London 2012 Olympics but failed to qualify for Rio, and its chances of a medal this summer on home turf are slim. Okajima says Japan’s clubs are finding it harder to keep up as teams in Europe and elsewhere go professional, meaning “the level of women’s football is rapidly rising”.
But players at Chifure AS Elfen Saitama, one of the WE League’s 11 inaugural clubs, see a bright future. Goalkeeper Natsumi Asano, 23, called the league’s launch a “very important step”.
“I am hopeful, and I also feel responsible as a player” for the game’s success, she told AFP as her teammates practised headers and talked tactics at their training ground near Tokyo.
Female footballers aren’t always recognised for their talents in Japan, Asano said, recalling her surprise when she was greeted with loud cheers at an under-17s match in the United States. She hopes that will change as the league grows. “If we can show we’re just as great as men’s football teams… there will be more sponsors and supporters,” she said.
‘A dream and a goal’
Okajima hopes to raise the profile of the sport in Japan and attract new fans, especially women in their teens and twenties. Just 1,300 supporters on average turn up to games in the country’s top semi-professional women’s league, while a popular team in the US can draw a crowd of 20,000, she said.
And only 3.3 percent of registered Japanese players are women, with the number of female players staying roughly the same over the past 10 years. It’s still common for female players in Japan to have a day job and train in the afternoon, while many teams don’t have permanent grounds.
“Women couldn’t earn a living with football. But once it goes pro, becoming a footballer can be a dream and a goal for girls,” said AS Elfen midfielder Emi Yamamoto.
The 39-year-old spent several years at teams in Italy and the US, and says many others have done the same because they could not go pro in Japan. “If the league reaches the top level worldwide, everyone, including foreign players, will want to play here,” she said.
‘Social message upfront’
In another boost to players’ international ambitions, a women’s Asian Champions League is set to launch in 2023, the regional football governing body said earlier this year. Meanwhile the WE League, which is funded through sponsorship and subsidies, has another goal closer to home — to create more jobs for women in the male-dominated sports sector.
The league’s clubs are required to have at least one female coach, while half the staff and one decision-maker must be women. “It’s a league that displays its social message upfront,” Okajima said. The main challenge for the WE League might be launching in a pandemic.
Pre-season matches had to be held without spectators due to surging cases, but Okajima says the team is trying to drum up support online, reaching a deal with an online streaming platform to air their tournament.
And goalkeeper Asano is confident that glory could once again beckon for the Japanese side. “The level of the Japan team will go up if the level of the league rises,” she said. “That way, I think we will step closer to winning the World Cup again.”
Jurgen Klopp Has Revealed That Thiago Alcantara Will Be Forced To Miss The Club’s Upcoming Friendly Battles With Bologna
Nigeria Customs Seizes N22bn Pangolin, Elephant Parts
Bangladesh to vaccinate 10 million in seven days
BBNaija 2021: Boma Says He Won’t Do Anything With Jackie B Because Her Son Is Watching
Real Madrid Are Looking To Sell Dani Ceballos During This Summer’s Transfer Window
Society Reporters to Honour Exceptional Nigerians, Others
APC Governors Storm Abuja To Decide Fate Of Buni, Others
Three people killed and more than 40 injured in Czech Republic train crash (photos)
BBNaija 2021: Biggie Issues First Warning To Maria For Microphone Infringement
COVID-19: Nigeria records 747 new cases, highest in five months
Nuno Espirito Santo Says The Club Will Solve Their Harry Kane Problem Internally Rather Than Speak Publicly About It
Sound Sultan: The Poetic Ambassador on Migration UN Never Had
Father hailed as hero after he ran into burning house to save his baby twins
BBNaija 2021: Emmanuel Puts His Massage Skills To Use On Liquorose’s Body
Split with Melinda a very sad milestone, source of sadness- Bill Gates
Leicester Have Been Hit With A Major Injury Worry Ahead Of The New Season After Wesley Fofana Was Taken Off On A Stretcher
Our Foundry And The Ancient Art of Bronze Casting
BBN 2021: Jealousy Or Mockery? Maria Recounts The Kiss Between Pere And Beatrice (VIDEO)
Borno state governor denies visiting Abba Kyari
Intensify operations against bandits- COAS to troops
Trending: TV Presenter Priscilla Kayira caught up in “Mesho” scandal, Internet Reacts
Sunday Igboho’s aides granted bail after 32 days in DSS custody
President Biden calls on New York Governor Cuomo to resign after sexual misconduct allegation
Wild video of female Kenyan lecturer hits online
Prince, Lucy, Eric, Wathoni, And Many Others Show Up For Ozo’s Classy 29th Birthday Party (Video)
FG announces plans to ‘unbundle’ NIPOST into Courier Services, Microfinance Bank
11 Best Breakfasts Olympic Athletes Eat to Stay Fit
Tokyo Olympics: PUMA writes AFN, terminates four-year $2.67m contract with Nigeria
Here’s What They Don’t Tell You About Healing Yourself
“Omo, Ozo Is Loved” – Vee Reacts As Ozo Receives Massive Love On His Birthday Today
BBNaija 2021: Mixed Reactions As Pere Describe Angel As A Street Girl
“Happy Birthday To A Strong Man” – Nengi Shares Lovely Message To Celebrate Ozo, As He Turns A Year Older Today
Secret Side Effects of Eating Rotisserie Chicken, Says Science
Abba Kyari appears before DIG Egbunike Panel
BBNaija 2021: Angel’s Dad Hails Her Revealing Outfit For The Fashion Night
FIFA bans former CAF President Issa Hayatou
COVID-19 infections rise for four consecutive weeks globally- WHO
Police arrest 3 kidnap suspects in Benue
Pastor Adeboye recounts hilarious encounter with an old time lover who came to him for prayers
Breaking: PDP BOT Member Defects To APC (Photo)
Politics2 days ago
APC Makes Contact As Seven PDP NWC Members Resign
News1 day ago
BBNaija: Angel captured touching her ‘private part’ (Video)
Entertainment3 days ago
BBNaija 2021: Watch Moment Cross Shows His Manhood To Housemates
Health3 days ago
One Major Side Effect of Eating Watermelon, Says Dietitian
Business News2 days ago
NNPC to Pay First Dividend to Shareholders in Q3
Entertainment3 days ago
BBNaija 2021: Social Media Users Attack Sammie For Saying He Didn’t Like Angel’s Behavior At Last Night’s Truth Or Dare Games
Entertainment3 days ago
BBNaija 2021: Housemates Show Their Favorite S3X Position In Truth/Dare Game
Entertainment3 days ago
BBNaija: Watch Sammie’s Facial Expression When Angel Was Asked To Grab Pere’s D**K