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Posted at: Jan 25, 2017, 2:15 AM; last updated: Jan 25, 2017, 2:15 AM (IST)

Now, a football league for top women

6-team league to be played from Jan 28, but no prize money announced
Now, a football league for top women
Sports Minister Vijay Goel and AIFF president Praful Patel with women footballers at the launch of the league in New Delhi on Tuesday. PTI

Sabi Hussain

Tribune News Service

New Delhi, January 24

There’s a new football league on the block — the Indian Women’s League (IWL) is the latest addition to the ever-growing list of professional leagues in the country. After the successful launch of the Indian Super League (ISL) in 2013, the All India Football Federation (AIFF) has now come up with a six-team league for the country’s women footballers, lasting 18 days. This could lead to greater interest in women’s football in India, which has generally been given much less importance than the men’s sport.

IWL, which will run from January 28 to February 14 at Delhi’s Ambedkar Stadium, will have teams from Haryana (FC Alakhpura), Pondicherry (Jeppiaar Institute of Technology FC), Mizoram (Aizawl FC), Maharashtra (FC Pune City), Odisha (Rising Student Club) and Manipur (Eastern Sporting Union). The teams will play each other in a round-robin format, the top four teams advancing to the semifinals.

The sport’s world governing body, FIFA, has been putting a lot of pressure on its member countries to develop women’s football in the best possible way. IWL, thus, has been created after a great deal of ‘encouragement’ by FIFA.

No broadcasters

According to an AIFF official, a lot of brainstorming and hard work went into conceptualising the league. The idea was first discussed a year ago at an AIFF Executive Committee meeting and the league finally saw the light of day today.

The question is — how much can a league that lasts a little over two weeks do for the betterment of women’s football in the country? Not much, it would seem, but the players are happy that a beginning has been made. But the league is badly handicapped as it doesn’t have an official broadcaster, which means the matches won’t be televised live. “The matches will be streamed live on the AIFF’s website,” said the official.

There will be no international women footballers in the league, and it would be played among the country’s top footballers and players from AIFF’s different age-group teams and local clubs. In this case, the junior players stand to gain the most as they would be playing alongside the senior pros and would be able to learn the nuances of the sport from them.

AIFF made no mention of any prize money, apparently due to the lack of sponsors. There would be no entry fee for the matches.

Contrast

IWL’s big brother ISL has no dearth of high-profile sponsors, prize-money and big-ticket semi-retired international players. Moreover, it’s played for three months and there has been talk of merging it with I-league, India’s premier domestic football competition.

When AIFF approached I-League and ISL clubs to become part of IWL, only the Pune franchise of ISL and Aizawl from I-league agreed.

Players happy

The players, however, are not complaining because they believe IWL would help them prepare better for the AFC Cup qualifying round, to be played from April 3 to 11. “The league should have started earlier, but it’s better late than never. A start has been made and we hope to gain from it,” said Bembem Devi, who has been representing India for the past 20 years. “The team has been doing well and we would like to see our league getting as much attention as the ISL in future.”

High rank

The women’s team is ranked 54 in the FIFA rankings, much higher than their male counterparts (129), and has an outside chance of qualifying for the AFC Cup next year and the Women’s World Cup in 2019. It recently won its fourth consecutive South Asian Football Federation title, beating Bangladesh 3-1 in the final. The women’s team is unbeaten for 19 matches, having won 18 and drawn one.

“IWL is a beginning. The league will slowly gain prominence. We hope to expand the league to 16 teams by next year,” Patel said.

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