Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts pledge to be friendly and helpful. But their parent organisations may find that promise hard to keep as they head into a potentially bitter competition triggered by the Boy Scouts of America's dramatic move to admit girls throughout its ranks.

The BSA's initiative, announced on Thursday, has already chilled what had been a mostly cordial relationship between the two youth groups since the Girl Scouts of the USA was founded in 1912, two years after the Boy Scouts.

"We have always existed in a space with competitors," the Girl Scout's chief customer officer, Lisa Margosian, said yesterday in an interview. "What happened yesterday is that we have another new competitor."

Rather than altering its message, Margosian said, the Girl Scouts will "double down" with a commitment to empowering girls.

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"We believe strongly in the importance of the all-girl, girl-led and girl-friendly environment that Girl Scouts provides," the GSUSA said, describing itself as "the best girl leadership organisation in the world".

The Boy Scouts' official announcement of their new plan made no mention of the Girl Scouts, although BSA board Chairman Randall Stephenson said girls should have the chance to benefit from his organisation's "outstanding leadership development programmes".

The BSA's chief scout executive, Michael Surbaugh, said in an interview that the Girl Scouts offered "great programmes" but argued that many parents viewed the two sets of programmes as significantly different and wanted the option of choosing between them for their daughters.

Under the Boy Scouts' new plan, Cub Scout dens -- the smallest unit -- will be single-gender, either all-boys or all-girls. The larger Cub Scout packs will have the option to remain single gender or welcome both genders.

A programme for older girls -- mirroring the Boy Scout curriculum -- is expected to start in 2019 and will enable girls to earn the coveted rank of Eagle Scout.

The Girl Scouts learned back in January that the Boy Scouts were considering opening their ranks to girls, Margosian said.

"They never reached out to let us know what was happening," she said. "Given our history, as a courtesy, they could have let us know." J

an Barker, the long-serving CEO of the Girl Scouts' Heart of Michigan Council, suggested that Boy Scout programming would not be appropriate for many girls.

"The Boy Scouts' approach is very militaristic and top-down, and I don't know if that's the best environment for girls to feel nurtured," said Barker, whose base is Kalamazoo, Michigan. "Girls and boys are wired differently -- you can't just put out the same curriculum."

The new challenge from the Boy Scouts is only the latest in a string of difficulties faced by the Girl Scouts over the past 15 years. There was a wrenching realignment in 2006-2009 that slashed the number of local councils from 312 to 112. There have been layoffs at many councils and at the national headquarters as the organisation grappled with a large deficit. And there have been deep rifts between leadership and grassroots members over the direction of programming and efforts by many councils to sell summer camps.

- AP