HUNDREDS of girls' football and rugby teams are to compete in a national sports festival for youngsters to mark the millennium - while boys are forced to stand on the touchline.
The traditionally male preserves of rugby and football are among eight sports that will make up the Millennium Youth Games, launched today by Chris Smith, the Culture Secretary, and Sally Gunnell, the Olympic hurdler; yet most boys will not be allowed to take part. The football tournament is limited to girls and children with learning disabilities, while boys can play rugby only at under-11 level - and even then in mixed-sex sides. A netball competition will also be girls-only, while hockey, athletics, swimming, basketball and tennis will give both sexes a chance.
More than 300,000 children under 15 are expected to take part in the Pounds 4.3million games next year, part of the Pounds 100million Millennium Festival that will be announced today by Mr Smith. The games are being organised by Sport England, until recently the Sports Council for England, and are partly funded by BAA, a sponsor of the Millennium Dome.
Boys have been left out of the football and rugby competitions because organisers believed that girls needed a stage on which to prove their skills at these male-oriented sports. Both have become increasingly popular among girls, with more than 3,000 girls' football teams in Britain.
Anita White, director of development at Sport England, said: "There are lots of leagues, cups and competitions - almost too many - for boys to play in, but what we are hearing all the time is that girls want to play but don't have the opportunity. We are giving them a chance to shine and show that they can play football and rugby to a very high standard as well."
Helen Ames, national youth development officer at the Women's Rugby Football Union, said the games would deliver a massive boost to women's rugby. "It is going to be a tremendous competition that will give girls a chance to play rugby as never before," she said.
The Millennium Youth Games will be one of the main projects in the Millennium Festival, which is designed to ensure that all parts of the United Kingdom can participate fully in the celebrations. Mr Smith said on GMTV yesterday: "I want to make sure that the millennium is something to celebrate everywhere. I sometimes get annoyed with the national press, that they seem to think that the only thing happening for the millennium is the Dome in Greenwich. That's going to be wonderful but there's a lot else happening as well."
Sport in schools, page 37
Copyright (C) The Times, 1999
Henderson, Mark. "Girls get a sporting chance to shine." Times [London, England] 22 Feb. 1999