Jousting: 'Chivalrous' jousters keep damsels at bay

It was the first sport of kings: where the medieval knight could make his fortune or lose his life with a single horseback charge and the thrust of a lance. And now it's back.

No longer the preserve of the aristocracy, the ancient and chivalrous sport of jousting is being taken up by people of all backgrounds. Britons are leading the charge, with around 30 professional, full-time jousters based in this country, who compete in competitions attended by hundreds of spectators.

Thrusting lances at mounted opponents while wearing heavy armour makes for an unlikely weekend pursuit. But with more than a thousand people now taking part in competitions worldwide, jousting has not seen such popularity since its heyday in the 15th century. Professional riders can make around £900 from a big weekend joust.

A large number of enthusiasts take part on an amateur level. Several of the major competitions held by the Royal Armouries in Leeds attract more than 1,500 spectators over a single weekend.

The internet has given the ancient sport a boost, with websites promoting events around the country each week. There is even a league with rankings for the best jousters. Many have fans who follow their progress keenly.

However, the sport does perpetuate some, literally, medieval attitudes. Many professional competitions, citing historical accuracy, have banned women from tournaments as they would not have competed in medieval times.

William West, a professional jouster and armourer for nearly a decade, said: "There aren't many lady jousters. I only know of one lady jouster who is very good, but one of the problems she has is that the lance is very heavy and ladies don't have a lot of strength in their arms. It's a bone of contention really. There are quite a few ladies who would like to have a go, but unfortunately some of the groups don't allow ladies to joust. I think that in the modern world, women should be able to compete."

Susan Jones, 28, from Swansea, is one of the few female professional jousters. She began competing in 2004 with the International Jousting League (IJL) when living in Belgium. She now wants to set up her own jousting group in the UK. "The great thing about the IJL," she said, "is you can join in as a girl. A few other groups have women, but not many."

However, Lisa Turton of the Leeds Royal Armouries said: "It's all about chivalry and keeping it historically accurate. We would never put a woman in one of our competitions as it's not historically accurate."