AIFF launches IWL to grow women’s professional football

New Delhi: All India Football Federation (AIFF) President Praful Patel and Sports Minister Vijay Goel launches Indian Women's League in New Delhi on Tuesday. PTI Photo(PTI1_24_2017_000133B)

India’s first professional women’s football league, called IWL, will begin at New Delhi’s Ambedkar Stadium later this month.

Six clubs will battle it out between January 28 and February 14 for the winner’s trophy. Jeppiar (Puducherry), Eastern Sporting Union (Imphal), Rising Student’s Club (Cuttack), Football Club Alakhpura (Haryana) will be four teams. One team each from I-League and ISL clubs, Aizawl FC and Pune City will also be part of the league.

20 teams across nine states had participated in the first leg of the qualifiers. Nine teams were then identified for the IWL preliminaries, held in Cuttack in October 2016.

Several of the women football stars were present on the occasion. Dalima Chibber (FC Pune City), Oinam Bembem Devi (ESUFC) and Sasmita Malik (Rising Student FC) represented their clubs. Sanju Yadav (FC Alakhpura), Sumithra Kamaraj (Jeppiar Institute FC) and K Lalruaizeli (Aizawl FC) were also present.

The six participating teams would play each other in a round robin format. After the completion of the round robin league, four teams will move into the semi-finals.

“We are starting with six teams and hope to expand it to 16 in future. This gives our women footballers the option to take it up as a career”, AIFF President Praful Patel said.

“With the right effort our women’s team will have an outside chance of qualifying for the 2019 World Cup before the men,” Patel said.

Viewership swelling

The football scene in India has been seeing a lot of action lately. Three-year old Indian Super League has become one of the highest watched leagues in the world. Backed by Hero Group, the combine of Star TV, IMG and Reliance has managed to get a lot of attention.

The third edition of the league managed to get 217 million viewers against 206 million in the second edition. But big stars not yet part of the sporting action. Therefore, getting brands to ride the viewership of football has been a challenge.

I-league is being currently held across cities but it is not enjoying the same success for sponsors like ISL. Some voices in the recent past have suggested that the two leagues should merge to form one strong entity.