ALLEGRA MILHOLLAND, the 9-year-old halfback of the McLean Stingers who was barred from competing in the prestigious Canadian Robbie soccer tournament because she is a girl, will be allowed to play after all.
Alan Southard, the tournament chairman who is also president of the Canadian Youth Soccer Association, announced late Thursday that the committee will permit Allegra to play with her team, which is otherwise made up of boys.
But a 15-year-old Danish girl will not be permitted to play with her mixed team because the differences in physical capability between boys and girls at that age are much greater. Nor, said Southard, will Canadian Youth Soccer alter its polices of having girls soccer and boys soccer -- equal, perhaps, but separate.
"We see no reason to change these policies unless the laws in Canada and the provinces prove that these policies are illegal," said Southard. "We also believe that our primary requirement is to promote and foster youth soccer.
But he said that the McLean girl would be allowed to play because "we do not believe that a child should be the focal point of any controversy, no matter what the issue . . ."
The Washington Post first disclosed last week that Allegra's team would be playing in what is probably the most prestigious invitational tournament in North America, but that she, a member of the team for two years and a starting player, would be barred from play because of her sex.
Marc Lortie, the Canadian Embassy spokesman here, said that after the article appeared the embassy received "all kinds of phone calls from people and various organizations complaining that this girl wasn't allowed to play. The embassy was concerned. We passed along all those complaints about it to the organizers of the Robbie Tournament."
The Women's Equity Action League in Washington, which monitors women in sports, alerted Canadian feminists about the situation and the story became front page news in the nationally circulated Toronto Globe and Mail on June 15 and was closely followed by stories in the Toronto Star and the Toronto Sun. The National Action Committee on the Status of Women, an umbrella group of more than 170 women's groups that is Canada's largest feminist organization, took up Allegra's cause, as did two members of the Ontario's legislature and a top government official in charge of women's sports.
Lynne Sullivan, treasurer of the National Action Committee, said her organization has filed a formal complaint with the Canadian Human Rights Commission charging that the soccer associations involved with the tournament are denying access to "services and facilities" to some girls on the basis of sex and age.
The National Action Committee also plans to file a complaint at the provincial level as well. "The federal government has told us that they feel amateur sports is not in their jurisdiction, but our lawyers say it's not as simple as that," says Sullivan, noting that the tournament is international and not provincial. "If they turn us down on jurisdiction, we're going to appeal."
"There are probably other girls who've been left off rosters or not selected for teams because they wouldn't be allowed to compete in this tournament," said Sullivan. The National Action Committee has twice before won cases involving girls playing hockey and softball at the human rights commission level, only to have them overturned on appeal.
Allegra Milholland is an all-star swimmer and exceptionally talented athlete who is a year younger than most of the boys on her team and is playing at the highest level of competitive youth soccer in the Washington area. She tried out for the Stingers because there was no girls team near her age at that level of play, according to her mother, Olivia.
Last fall, her coach, Al Galiani, applied to the Robbie Tournament. He says he did not know the tournament would not accept mixed teams, although Olivia Miholland disputes this. After the team was accepted, it became clear that Allegra would not be allowed to play. Efforts by her coach and then her parents to persuade American officials to intercede on her behalf went nowhere. Galiani contacted Robbie officials, but was told she could not play. When the team roster arrived in Canada last month, her name was not on it, Southard said.
The Milhollands continued pressing their daughter's case, while Southard said Galiani wrote a letter suggesting that Allegra be allowed to play if opposing coaches and members of the Robbie committee did not object.
Galiani was again advised Allegra could not play and the Robbie committee reaffirmed its decision at its meeting Tuesday night. Southard said, however, that discussions about the situation have been going on among tournamenst officials since Galiani's letter arrived and that he discussed the situation with other Canadian soccer officials. The committee met over lunch Thursday and revised its decision.
"Our driving force is a child should not be on the sidelines watching unless he or she had violated one of the laws of the game," Southard said.
"Our basic motivation was here's a 9-year-old girl who can't play and she's not going to understand it," he said.
"We're very pleased," Allegra said yesterday, noting, however, that she wished a permanent rule change had been made, rather than an exception for her. "I'm just happy to be going. It shows they should be fair to everybody."