A dating website for lesbians has accused the organisers of Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras of pandering to commercial interests at the expense of community spirit.

The Pink Sofa says its members have been refused permission to participate in the Fair day and parade events because the festival is sponsored by dating site Gaydar, reports the Sydney Morning Herald.

Liz James, a spokeswoman for the lesbian dating site, claims that hundreds of women wanted to march under The Pink Sofa banner, but because of the sponsorship deal, they have been refused.

Mardi Gras organisers hit back, saying that the lesbian site is a commercial operation in direct competition with their sponsor, and not a community group.

It is the second spat that the event has had with sponsorship.

It emerged yesterday that the tourist boards of Queensland and Tasmania had been refused entry to the Fair Day event because it was being financially backed by the New South Wales tourist board.

Mardi Gras organisers have now backed down and allowed all three organisations to attend the event.

In 2002, Mardi Gras was almost bankrupt, and the community-based management of the board became more commercially savvy to ensure the survival of the festival.

Mardi Gras chairman Marcus Bourget told the Sydney Morning Herald. that with a turnover of AU$3m (£1.18m) the festival needed serious commercial sponsors like Gaydar.

“We are not excluding people, only competing commercial organisations. If not for our sponsors there would be no Mardi Gras. We have to provide a fair deal for our sponsors.

“We welcome (The Pink Sofa) members to participate in the event as individuals,” he said.

But Vincent Cooper of the International Gay and Lesbian Tourism Association, expressed concern at the increasing commercialisation of the internationally renowned festival.

“They need to be a little more sensitive when signing up these sponsorship agreements,” Mr Cooper said.

“I can understand if Ford sponsored it and Toyota wanted to be involved, but when they exclude gay and lesbian businesses like Pink Sofa, it’s just not on.”