| A ball girl at the Madrid Masters tournament. (Reuters)
Madrid, Oct. 21: The organisers of an international tennis tournament have refused to sack models hired as ball girls after the Spanish government claimed that their employment demeaned women.
Soledad Murillo, an official from Spain's labour ministry, sent a demand to the director of the ATP Masters Series, in which Tim Henman, Andre Agassi and Roger Federer are competing, ordering that the 25 models be withdrawn on the ground that their presence 'contributes to fomenting clear discrimination towards women who appear as simple objects of decoration and amusement'.
The recogepelotas, or ball-girls, are mostly in their twenties and were selected from 80 candidates from Spanish model agencies. They wear T-shirts and skirts split just above knee-length and are each paid '600 for the tournament.
A Spanish pressure group, Consumers in Action, has lodged a court case against Hugo Boss, the fashion company that hired the models, 'for attacking the dignity of women'.
The government has also demanded that the city hall of Madrid, which sponsors the event and is run by the opposition centre-Right People's Party, condemn the use of the models.
But Gerard Tsobanian, the head of the firm running the tournament, said they would not be sacked. 'We will continue with our project until the end,' he added. 'We want to do something new. This is not machista, we want a women's tournament here, too, and for that we would use male models.'
One of the models, Jayone San Jose, said: 'We are doing something normal. We are not wearing provocative necklines, neither short skirts nor are we showing our backsides.'
The row does not seem to have affected the tennis players too much. Agassi said: 'I don't find women on court distracting. I often play with my wife (Steffi Graf). But I think that the skirts should be shorter.'