The inaugural edition of the Indian Women's League - a six-team women's tournament - will kick off on January 28, the AIFF announced on Tuesday.
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) are the six participating teams that will compete in a round-robin format, with the top four teams advancing to the semifinals. All the matches in the two-week long tournament will be held at the Ambedkar Stadium in Delhi.
"Our women's team is ranked 54 in the world which is higher than the men's ranking of 129," Praful Patel, the AIFF president, said. "This 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.
"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."
Vijay Goel, the minister for youth affairs and sports, felt the tournament would "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," he said. "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."
Initially, twenty teams from across nine states had taken part in the first leg of the qualifiers. From those, nine qualified for the IWL prelims, which were held in Cuttack last October.