New Japanese women’s football league takes shape

Mizuho Sakaguchi (C) of Japan celebrates with Risa Shimizu (L) and Emi Nakajima (R) scoring the opening goal during the AFC Women's Asian Cup Group B match between Japan and Australia at the Amman International Stadium on April 13, 2018 in Amman, Jordan. (Photo by Francois Nel/Getty Images)

The Japanese Football Association is planning to launch the country’s first fully professional women’s league in 2021-22.

Last July, it was reported that the association was discussing a new women’s league. This week, The Japan Times reported further details of the competition, citing unnamed sources.

The new competition will take over from the existing, semi-professional, two-tier Nadeshiko league as the country’s top tier of women’s club football. The league will have six to 10 teams in its top division, and will have a winter-summer, September-to-May calendar. The Nadeshiko League, which has a spring-autumn calendar, will continue to run as an amateur competition.

All players in the new league will be professional. Each team must have a minimum of five players on ‘A contracts’ that have no limits on maximum salaries, and at least 10 players on ‘B’ and ‘C contracts’, that have salary caps.

Each team will be required to have at least one female executive, and within three years, at least 50 per cent of each team’s staff must be women.

Like in other league restructures in Japan, such as basketball’s B.League, team names must include the name of their home city or region.

The Japan Times said that the JFA hopes that teams will operate on budgets of around ¥450m (€3.8m/$4.1m). The paper pointed out that only one current Nadeshiko League team does so – INAC Kobe Leonessa. The average budget for a first division Nadeshiko League team is reported to be in the range ¥100m-200m.

The league’s parent company will be established in April, and the teams are expected to be announced this summer.

Japan is hosting the 2023 Fifa Women’s World Cup. A Fifa inspection team is visiting the country next week to monitor preparations.