On June 17, hundreds of people gathered in Kumagaya Stadium, 70 km from Tokyo. The local women’s football team faces that of the Nagano region, a few weeks before the launch of the first professional women’s football league (We League) in September. “My 10 year old daughter wants to join the Kumagaya team. We will surely come back here for the opening game of the league, his creation is great news ”, tells an enthusiastic mother who came to the stadium with her family.
Like a Japanese society still largely unequal, Japanese footballers still suffer from the comparison with their male counterparts. And this, while they won the World Cup in 2011 and the silver medal at the 2012 Olympics. The current women’s football league has for example only ten professional players, or about 5% of the workforce. .
Objective: 5,000 spectators per match
In order to change the situation, the Japanese Federation announced, in June 2020, the creation of this WE League. “The idea is to change not only football, but also the whole of society”, says Miyuki Kobayashi, executive member of WE League. In this league, at least fifteen players in each of the eleven teams will benefit from a professional contract, with an annual salary of at least € 20,000.
Kozue Ando, a 39-year-old midfielder who has played 126 games for the Japan team, hails the improvements made in recent years. “Twenty years ago, we used a college ground to train and we changed in the shade of a tree”, she says. Having experienced it, she knows that progress can be very rapid. “When we left for the World Cup in 2011, there were three journalists at the airport. When we returned, there were more than 500. Now that the league is created, to strengthen the popularity of our sport, it is imperative that Japan return to the top three nations in the world. “