New Delhi, Jan 25: The All India Football Federation (AIFF) on Tuesday launched the first ever womens professional league which is to be contested by six teams at the Ambedkar Stadium here from January 28.
The two-week Indian Women's League (IWL) will be a beginning of a new era in country's women's football, AIFF President Praful Patel announced at a press conference.
The six participating teams -- FC Alakhpura (Haryana), Jeppiaar Institute of Technology FC (Puducherry), Aizawl FC (Mizoram), FC Pune City (Maharashtra), Rising Student Club (Odisha) and Eastern Sporting Union (Manipur) -- would play each other in a round robin format with the top four teams advancing to the semi-finals.
A total of 20 teams from across nine states had taken part in the first leg of the qualifiers from which nine teams qualified for the IWL prelims which were held in Cuttack in October 2016.
"Our women's team is ranked 54 in the world which is higher than the men's ranking of 129 which means that for the upcoming FIFA women's World Cup in 2019, if we put in the right effort our women's team will have an outside chance of qualifying for the world cup before the men. This in itself is a huge achievement," Patel said.
"This is a beginning for the women's game in the country. We are starting with six teams and hope to expand it to 16 by next year. This gives our women footballers the option to take it up as a career. I wish all the teams the very best and may the best team win," he added.
Dalima Chibber (FC Pune City), Oinam Bembem Devi (ESUFC), Sasmita Malik (Rising Student FC), Sanju Yadav (FC Alakhpura), Sumithra Kamaraj (Jeppiar Institute FC) and K. Lalruaizeli (Aizawl FC) represented their respective teams at the launch.
Besides Patel, Minister of State for Youth Affairs and Sports Vijay Goel, representatives from the six teams, as well as 2016 Olympics bronze medal-winning wrestler Sakshi Malik were present on the occasion.
Goel lauded the AIFF for launching IWL which he felt will "inspire the women footballers of the country to work towards a goal".
"This is a momentous occasion and today women are ahead of men in every field. I hope our women footballers will also earn greater laurels for the country. Whatever help is required from the Government and sports ministry, we shall ensure that all help is provided," the minister said.