Banks urges schoolgirls to play rugby

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The Independent Online
SCHOOLS WILL be told to stop segregating "male" sports, such as rugby, and "female" sports, including netball, because of fears it deters girls from all sports.

Tony Banks, the sports minister, intends to tell teachers to allow teenage girls to play football, as well as lacrosse, as part of a government drive to persuade young women to play more sport.

He believes that women are deterred by the "maleness" of the most high- profile games - such as soccer, rugby and cricket - but could enjoy them if they were allowed to participate on the field.

A report, to be published this week, says many young women are put off sport because of its "macho" image and stop playing games believing they are "unfeminine".

"I want to make sure they're not excluded from particular sports," said Mr Banks. "We need to do more to encourage teenagers to play more sport. I am determined to improve opportunities for women at all levels in sport."

In September, schools will only be required to provide one hour of physical exercise each week, but ministers want to ensure that pupils - and girls in particular - do not lose out.

Baroness Jay, the minister for women, is also considering the matter as part of her investigation of the issues facing teenage girls.

A study by the sportswear manufacturer Nike, to be sent to all MPs this week, warns that girls are losing out on the huge potential benefits of sport.

"Competitive sport, with its associations of physical strength and aggression, has been seen as a male preoccupation," says the report. "Many girls opt out of sporting activity in their teens because of its focus on overt competitiveness ... Unlike successful sportsmen, many successful women are perceived as being 'abnormal' in sacrificing their femininity to succeed."

According to research conducted by Nike, girls are put off by the distinction between "male" and "female" sports. They are just as likely to describe sportsmen as role models as they are to admire sportswomen.

The report found that girls could also benefit academically from playing more sport. It also helps young women develop more optimistic personalities, makes them less likely to suffer depression, have eating disorders or form violent relationships.

Mary Peters, the former Olympic gold medal-winning pentathlete, urged ministers to encourage girls to play sport. "If the Government is really serious about promoting women's issues, it has to do more to encourage teenage girls to play sport at schools," she said.