The South Korean women’s soccer team returned home from the 2023 Women’s World Cup Australia-New Zealand on Friday after being eliminated in the round of 16. They were confident of reaching the round of 16 for the second time since Canada 2015, but the stakes were high. A 0-2 first-leg loss to Colombia and a 0-1 second-leg defeat to a desperate Morocco left them far from the round of 16. They had to settle for a point and their first goal of the tournament in a 1-1 draw against ‘FIFA No. 2’ Germany in the final match. One draw, two losses, out of the round of 16. No grave without an excuse, but no result without a reason. It’s time for sober criticism and a clear vision. We take a look at the current state of Korean women’s soccer and the way forward.
“I believe that the decision to create the WE League two years ago has made Japanese women’s soccer what it is today.”
Haruna Takada, president of the Japan Women’s Professional Soccer League, said at the Women Empowerment (WE) League media briefing today. Japan is on a roll at the FIFA 2023 World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. They won three straight games in the group stage, including a 4-0 comeback win over powerhouse Spain to reach the round of 16, and then a 3-1 win over Norway to reach the quarterfinals.
South Korea’s women’s soccer team, which crashed out of the tournament four years ago in the round of 16 after losing three games to France, lost two straight games to Colombia and Morocco before drawing 1-1 with Germany. As the saying goes, “to fail to prepare is to prepare to fail,” and the Korean women’s soccer team’s collapse was a foreshadowing of their inability to keep up with the lightning-fast pace of world women’s soccer over the past four years.
Japan began discussions about professionalizing the league shortly after the 2019 Women’s World Cup in France. The 2011 Women’s World Cup champions and 2015 Women’s World Cup runners-up were knocked out in the round of 16 in France, losing 1-0 to the Netherlands. They were outclassed by a continental European side that has evolved in every aspect of play, speed, physicality, and technology through the professionalization of its domestic league and the creation of the Women’s Euro. None of the quarterfinalists were from Asia.
Japan has taken note of how England, which reached the quarterfinals of the French competition, has made remarkable progress since launching its professional league in 2018. Premier League teams such as Man City, Arsenal, and Chelsea have launched their own women’s soccer teams, incorporating advanced know-how from men’s soccer. Upon returning home, the Japan Football Association (JFA) formulated and implemented an innovation strategy. A preparatory committee for a professional women’s soccer league was launched. At the time, Japan’s Asahi Shimbun highlighted the need for professionalization in an article titled “A sense of crisis about the current situation, the push for professionalization, and the mountain of tasks for women’s soccer. A JFA official said, “Japanese women’s soccer has stagnated. If we don’t try to change it at this point, it will never progress,” he said, expressing urgency.
In the fall of 2021, the WE League, an 11-team “first division” professional league, was launched. The league stipulates that at least one of the team’s executives must be a woman, and within three years, at least half of each team’s staff must be female. The Nadeshiko League, the traditional Japanese women’s professional soccer league, was split into two divisions, one with 12 teams and the other with 10 teams. Four years later, at the World Cup, Japan was back, and it was more than a turnaround. With a squad as young as 24.8 years old, the Young Guns, who had just won the U20 World Cup in France, were fearless.
The difference between Japan and us was execution. The Korean Football Association also held a symposium on the development of women’s soccer immediately after the three-game loss in France and promised to improve. There was a lot of talk about unifying governance, professionalizing the WK League, and expanding the base. But it was a hollow promise. Interest quickly faded as the 2023 joint North-South Women’s World Cup bid fell through. Four years later, the number of registered players has dropped to around 1,400. The popularity of “goal-scoring girls” is a function of the popularity of “soccer talent,” not the popularity of women’s soccer.
Launched in 2009, the WK League was once the pride of Korean women’s soccer, but it has fallen behind the global trend. The salary cap remains the same as it was 14 years ago, at 50 million won for the third and 10th year, and except for a few popular teams such as Incheon Hyundai Steel, teams play their own league in dingy stadiums with fewer than 100 spectators. Professionalization is a global trend and the way to go. After the launch of the U.S. Women’s Professional Soccer in 2001, professional leagues in England, France, Germany, Sweden, and Spain in 2018, the Italian Women’s Serie A was launched last July. Morocco, the ‘North African foot soldier’ who beat South Korea to reach the round of 16, also has a 1-2 division pro league. The Korea Football Association and the KFA should put their heads together. Like Ji So-yeon’s Suwon FC Wimin, there is a great need for women’s soccer and girls’ teams under the K League. The Basic Sports Act, enacted last year, stipulates ‘sports for all’. It’s time for leading K League clubs like Ulsan Hyundai and Jeonbuk Hyundai, as well as K League city clubs with local government leaders as owners, to take an interest in professionalizing women’s soccer. At the launch of the WE League, JFA President Gojo Dae-ma said, “The launch of a professional women’s soccer league is not just for the development of women’s soccer. It aims to promote women’s participation in society and contribute to the creation of a sustainable society by expanding diversity and choice.” Former Sarajevo table tennis legend Irisa, who is the head of the Taereung Athletes’ Village, said, “I have been advocating for a long time. If we continue to invest only one-tenth of the budget in women’s soccer, we can win the World Cup.” KFA Honorary President Chung Mong-jun, who founded the Ulsan Cheongwoonjung, Hyundai Information Science High School, Ulsan National University of Science and Technology, and Incheon Hyundai Steel teams in 2010, also said, “Women will dominate the world stage faster than men in soccer.” “There is too little interest in women’s soccer in the sports world. The U.S. hosted the Women’s World Cup in 2003 after the Men’s World Cup in 1994, and people in the U.S. said that the Women’s World Cup was more fun. There is still a lot of lack of awareness in Korea,” he said.바카라사이트
South Korean women’s soccer coach Colleen Bell’s call for a “complete overhaul of the women’s soccer system” was wrong on the timing, but not the message. “Most of the players in the WK League thought, ‘If we win, great. If we lose, it’s not so bad’. I thought it was nonsense, soccer is not like that. Soccer is about winning, winning, winning, and competing. If the system is the same, the result is the same. You have to change the system, the people, and the players. We need to create a structure where schools actively develop female soccer players and send them to K League teams. We need to have frequent matches between girls aged 12 to 16. We need to reorganize the structure and have a clear philosophy and vision. I hear a lot of comparisons between Japan and Korea. Japan has a clear philosophy and a 30-year vision.”
“All four goals against Spain were scored by WE League players,” said Michihisa Kano, head coach of the Japan U-19 Women’s National Team and technical advisor to the league, at a media briefing seven days before the start of the third season of Japan’s professional women’s soccer league. “Professionalization has made our players obsessed with winning, allowing them to change their system flexibly to suit different opponents and situations, and to play multi-play. We have a lot more players sprinting at 30 kilometers per hour with strong forward pressure. Professionalization has created an environment where we can focus on football.”