A new dawn for Japanese women's football
First fully-professional league set to begin in Japan
11 clubs to compete in inaugural season
Tangible legacy of 2011 Women's World Cup triumph
A new and significant moment has arrived for women's football in Japan. The WE League, standing for Women Empowerment League, will be the first fully-professional women's football league in the country and will begin on 12 September with the inaugural season running until May 2022.
Following the success of the 2011 FIFA Women's World Cup™-winning team, women's football in the country has gone from strength to strength. At youth national level, Japan won the U-17 Women's World Cup in 2014 and the most recent edition of the U-20 Women's World Cup in 2018. Many of the influential players in both of those successes will be involved in the inaugural season of the WE League and are expected to play key roles on their respective clubs.
The Japan Football Association has taken the strategic decision to build on the multiple successes of the national teams and to establish a stable, fully-professional women's league. Fittingly, one of the chief architects of the 2011 triumph, former Nadeshiko coach Norio Sasaki, is the head of the league's preparation committee, now led by chairperson Kikuko Okajima, a former team-mate of current Nadeshiko head coach Asako Takakura.
"Our vision is to promote a society that allows everyone with a diversity of dreams and ways of living to individually shine through women’s football and other sports," said Sasaki.
One of the key requirements set by the committee and the JFA was that at least 50 per cent of the staff of each club must be women and each club must have at least one woman in executive board.
Mynavi Sendai Ladies Mitsubishi Heavy Industries Urawa Reds Ladies Omiya Ardija Ventus Chifure AS Elfen Saitama JEF United Ichihara Chiba Ladies Nippon TV Tokyo Verdy Beleza Nojima Stella Kanagawa Sagamihara AC Nagano Parceiro Ladies Albirex Niigata Ladies INAC Kobe Leonessa Sanfrecce Hiroshima Regina
Each team will play one another home and away, with the first-ever champion set to be crowned in May 2022. To allow time for the league to stabilise, there will be no relegation system in the initial seasons.
"When I started playing football in 1972, we struggled to find practice fields, coaches, and opponents because there were only a few women’s teams in Japan," said Okajima. "My dream in middle school and high school was to play an international football match."
Several familiar faces to international football fans will be a part of this milestone in their homeland, including:
Yuri Kawamura (Albirex Niigata)
Shiho Tomari, Chise Takizawa (AC Nagano Parceiro Ladies)
Ayaka Yamashita, Emi Nakajima, Hina Sugita, Mina Tanaka (INAC Kobe Leonessa)
Miho Fukumoto (Sanfrecce Hiroshima Regina)
Nana Ichise, Fuka Nagano (Mynavi Sendai Ladies)
Aya Sameshima, Saori Ariyoshi, Mizuho Sakaguchi (Omiya Ardija Ventus)
Eriko Arakawa (Chifure AS Elfen Saitama)
Moeka Minami, Yuika Sugasawa (Urawa Reds Ladies)
Haruka Osawa, Quinley Quezada (JEF United Ichihara Chiba Ladies)
Riko Ueki, Rikako Kobayashi, Jun Endo, Narumi Miura, Risa Shimizu, Azusa Iwashimizu, Asato Miyagawa (Tokyo Verdy Beleza)
Arisa Matsubara (Nojima Stella Kanagawa Sagamihara)
"I want WE league to be a platform where players can experience the brilliance of playing in full stadiums," Okajima continued. "For girls to dream of becoming football players, we must create opportunities for them to watch, interact, and get excited at the stadiums."
Most importantly, the league will give young girls in Japan something to dream about and to aim for for many years to come.