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Spanish minister criesfoul over model ball girls

For Spanish government officials models and tennis balls don't make a good match. A scuffle has erupted over the use of sultry fashion models as ball girls in the  Madrid Masters Tennis Tournament. NBC News Rachel Levin reports.
ATP Madrid Masters
A model acting as a ball girl is seen at the  Madrid Masters Tennis Tournament in Madrid, Spain on Monday. Jamie Mcdonald / Getty Images file
/ Source: NBC News

For Spanish government officials, models and tennis balls don't make a good match.

Spain's Secretary for Equality Soledad Murillo asked organizers of the Madrid Masters Tennis Tournament on Wednesday to stop using the fashion models dressed in short white skirts and tight tank tops as ball girls.

In a letter sent to the tournament director, Murillo said that the decision to use models instead of young tennis fans only "reinforces negative stereotypes that women are merely objects of decoration and entertainment."

Traditionally young volunteers from tennis academies participate as ball girls and boys in major tournaments.

The decision to not use the volunteers has also upset their parents who were quoted in El Pais, a Spanish daily, as saying that the models "don't know anything about tennis or even play it."

Raising money
Manuel Santana, director of the tournament and a former tennis star, dismissed accusations of sexism. He insisted the models were doing a good job and that the decision to use them was purely economic.

"It's not a question of machismo but we simply needed to raise money to pay for the event," he said.

The tight black tank tops the ball girls are sporting with the Hugo Boss logo written across them are part of a publicity campaign to promote the clothing line. 

A few of the models also defended their work and insisted that they were properly dressed.

"Our outfits are not provocative at all," said Marta Romero, one 25 models participating in the tournament.

The models, who are between the ages of 19-28, trained for two weeks before the tournament and are paid between 900 and 1000 euros ($1,130-$1,260) to work during the event.

Mixed response
Many fans were impressed by the ball girls, but not everyone agreed that they had the right credentials.

"I thought they were entertaining, but it was obvious that they were not properly trained," said computer engineer Sergio Garcia who attended a match.

American tennis star Andre Agassi shared the skepticism.

“I suppose I need some time to let it absorb,” he said. “I think it’s important for our sport to understand its product clearly. And I’m not quite convinced it’s part of our product.”

“It was difficult, to say the least, to concentrate on the ball,” Agassi said. “But I suppose I had an advantage. I’m used to playing with my wife” — Steffi Graf.

“The skirts look like they’re a little difficult to run in,” Agassi added. “I think they need to be shorter, maybe.”

The tournament ends on Sunday but there are no signs that the controversy will settle down.

On Thursday, a consumer advocacy group filed a complaint against Hugo Boss claiming that the company was violating a law that prohibits the exploitation of women and children.