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In this webinar, Japan Society board member Yuuichiro Nakajima is joined by two pioneers of women’s football, Kikko Okajima Murray and Kelly Simmons, to discuss the professionalization of the game, the impacts of the pandemic and the role of football as a force for social change.
In July 2020, Kikko Okajima Murray was announced as the chair of the newly established WE league – Japan’s first professional league for team sports in Japan. The WE League (standing for Women’s Empowerment) will replace the mostly amateur Nadeshiko League at the top of women’s football in Japan, and has ambitions to inspire the next generation of girls to dream of careers in football, as well as to promote empowerment and resolve social issues.
Okajima Murray has said she wants to position the league alongside the FA Women’s Super League and the National Women’s Soccer League in the US, but what can Japan learn from the UK experience? Kelly Simmons has long been a leader in the development of football in the UK for children, at the grassroots level, and now as director of the Women's Professional Game. What are the obstacles to change, and what steps have proved most significant in the journey which took the FA Women’s Super League to fully professional status in 2018? (In the initial phase of the WE League, participating clubs must have at least 15 players on professional contracts.) How can women’s sport breakthrough to the mainstream, building audiences and achieving financial sustainability?
Kikko Okajima Murray is inaugural chair of Japan’s WE League. Her participation in football began in junior high school, when she trained with a men’s club; then in 1972 she joined FC Jinnan, Japan’s first women’s club with whom she participated in the 2nd edition of the AFC Women’s Championship in Taiwan. Active in the development of women’s football, she became involved in establishing the Japan Women’s Football Federation in 1979, serving on its executive committee, and from 1984 as its executive secretary. She retired from playing in 1989, but has remained involved with Japanese women’s football from her home in Maryland, USA.
Kelly Simmons MBE took up the new role of Director of the Women’s Professional Game in September 2018 to help deliver and transform professional women’s football in England. She oversees the FA Women’s Super League, FA Women’s Championship, FA Women’s National League and the Women’s Pyramid of Football.
She was previously FA Director of Participation and Development, overseeing the implementation of a £200m four year investment programme into children’s and grassroots football.
Kelly was awarded an MBE in 2002 for Services to Football and received the BT Sports Industry Award for ‘Leadership in Sport’ in 2016.
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