IWL: Indian Women's League to be a 6-team affair

The All India Football Federation (AIFF) announced the birth of a women's I-League at a function in New Delhi, on Tuesday. The league will be a six-team affair and will commence from January 28.

Aizawl FC, FC Pune City, Jeppiar Institute FC (Puducherry), Eastern Sporting FC (Manipur), Alakhpura FC (Haryana) and Rising Student FC (Odisha) will take part in the league.

Amidst a proliferation of professional leagues across sports in an attempt to develop the games and cash in on their growing popularity, the AIFF on Tuesday announced the launch of the first-ever Indian Women's League to develop women's football in the country.

Unlike the other leagues, however, the first edition of the IWL would be a short, two-week affair starting on January 28 with all the matches in the six-team event being played at Delhi's Ambedkar Stadium. The IWL would be played in a round-robin format with the top four teams advancing to the semifinal.

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“Indian women are ranked 54th in the world against 129 for the men. There is an outside chance and who knows, our women may qualify for the World Cup before the men's team but for that we have to take football to more girls and women.

"I know it is not easy and this is the first but very important step towards making football a viable career for women footballers," AIFF president Praful Patel said at the inauguration.

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Hoping that the IWL would help bring in more professionalism in women's football – at par with the men – Patel added that it was important to move beyond the traditional pockets of the game to make the game more inclusive and widespread.

“There are teams from Pondicherry, Haryana and Odisha here, which is a great thing. The women's World Cup is in 2019 and it is not impossible to make the cut for our women,” Patel said.

Jeppiaar Institute of Technology F.C. (Puducherry) captain Sumithra Kamaraj agreed. “I think this league would go a long way in bringing the club culture and professionalism in women's football and hopefully enough money as well to make it a lucrative career for us even as it would give new talent a chance to step up to the top level by competing against national players,” she said.

Patel also announced a reward of Rs. 25 lakh for the national team for retaining the SAFF Championships earlier this month. The first leg of the qualifiers for the IWL were held last year with 20 teams from nine states, nine of which progressed to the preliminaries, held in October 2016.

Four of these qualified for the IWL with one team inducted from an ISL and an I-league franchise each – F.C. Pune City and Aizawl F.C. respectively.

The teams: F.C. Alakhpura (Haryana), Jeppiaar Institute of Technology F.C. (Puducherry), Aizawl F.C. (Mizoram), F.C. Pune City (Maharashtra), Rising Student Club (Odisha), Eastern Sporting Union (Manipur).

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