Kikuko Okajima, Chair and Developer of the new professional Japan Women’s Football League, has said that the league, expected to launch in 2021, will feature 11 teams for the inaugural season.
Seven of the 11 clubs are affiliated with the men’s J-League, which should provide solid professional and funding support for the initial few seasons of the league.
Seventeen clubs had originally applied for league status at the end of July this year. The new league will include Nadeshiko League 1 reigning women’s champion Nippon TV Tokyo Verdy Beleza (seventeen time national champions) as well as current league leader Urawa Reds Ladies (who have won the women’s league title three times in 2004, 2009 and 2014 and finished runners-up on three other occasions, including last season in the 10 team league).
Other current J-League affiliated clubs to make the cut for the new league were Albirex Niigata, JEF United Chiba (J2 League) and AC Parceiro Nagano (J3 League), as well as Vegalta Sendai Ladies, who will come under full control of team sponsor Mynavi in February.
Rounding out the group are perennial Nadeshiko League title contenders INAC Kobe Leonessa (who won the league championship on three consecutive occasions from 2011 to 2013), Nojima Stella Kanagawa Sagamihara (a women’s football club who play in the Nadeshiko League Division 1; they were promoted after winning L2 in 2016, and they finished 7th last season in the top tier) and Chifur AS Elfen Saitama (founded in 1991 and has played in the Nadeshiko League since 2002; they finished third last season in J2, just two points behind promoted J2 Champions Ehime and only one point behind second place Cerezo Osaka, who were also promoted last season).
Two J- League clubs will field new women’s teams in 2021, with Omiya Ardija (J2 League) absorbing Nadeshiko League second-division outfit Jumonji Ventus and Sanfrecce Hiroshima launching a brand-new team to complement its three-time J-League champion men’s side.
The WE League’s first season will consist of 22 home-and-away rounds with no relegation planned for at least the first few seasons.
With an odd number of teams, each club will have two “bye” weeks and the league intends for teams to treat those as service days, using the time to conduct activities related to promoting the league’s principles. Asked how northern clubs (Niigata, Sendai and Nagano) would handle potentially inclement winter weather, Okajima said those teams could play home games in neutral venues as part of the league’s strategy to promote itself in markets without established women’s teams.
This is an exciting advancement for women’s football in Japan, and I wish the effort all the best in the future to come.