Japan eyes football revival as first women’s pro league kicks off
Tokyo: Japan’s first professional women’s football league kicked off in upbeat mood Sunday, despite Covid fan restrictions, looking to make “heroes” of its players and inspire a new generation. A decade after winning the 2011 Women’s World Cup, Japan has fallen behind in the women’s game which is becoming more popular and lucrative around the world. But organisers of the 11-team WE League believe it can provide a platform for talent to blossom, and tap into growing enthusiasm for the game across the Asia-Pacific region ahead of the 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. “The WE League is the stage where everyone becomes a hero,” league chairwoman Kikuko Okajima said during a speech before Tokyo Verdy Beleza took on Urawa Reds Ladies in one of the opening day’s five fixtures. Games were subject to attendance limits, with Tokyo and other parts of Japan still under a virus state of emergency. Only home fans were allowed to attend Beleza’s match against Urawa, and cheering and chanting were strictly banned, with mask-wearing mandatory. – AFP