Last Updated on Tuesday, 22 January 2013 22:55 Written by Gordon Neish Tuesday, 22 January 2013 12:27
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COWAL Highland Gathering will, after this year, no longer host a ‘major’ pipe band competition.
However, the Games’ committee is looking at ways to fill the gap which will be left by the competition, and hopes to attract another significant pipe band competition.
A shock announcement appeared on the Gathering’s website yesterday (Monday) saying: “Following discussion with the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association (RSPBA), the Gathering has agreed to withdraw its pipe band championship’s ‘major’ status from 2014.”
This morning the Standard met with Gathering chairman Ronnie Cairns and event manager Malcolm Barclay to find the reasons behind the move.
They were refreshingly frank.
Malcolm said: “The December meeting of the RSPBA decided if Cowal was to bid for a major from 2014 onwards [then] the bid would not succeed. We were told if we withdraw the ‘major’ competition they would work with us to find a replacement competition.”
Ronnie added: “It was a fait accompli - we were either turfed out or we worked with them.
“The RSPBA has made a commitment not to have another competition over the last weekend in August.
“It is a concern – we don’t know the number of bands we will get at the replacement competition, but we are looking at ways of encouraging bands to take part.
“We need to make it more attractive to bands – one of the things we are looking at is prize money, and another is help with the costs of the bands getting here.
“We will speak to the bands and see what they want.”
It has been an open secret for some time that bands are not happy with the facilities Cowal has to offer.
The event, it seems, has simply outgrown the stadium.
Ronnie said: “We recognise that if we were bidding for our first ‘major’ championship we wouldn’t have a hope in hell of getting it.”
He gave some background to this. He said: “If you run a major competition in an open field you can simply make the area bigger to cope with tuning areas and the like. We just cannot expand anywhere.”
Band members have accused the volunteers of the Games’ committee of not listening to what they need. Ronnie said: “In 2007 we made huge changes. The RSPBA gave us ten points for improvement, so we redesigned the whole area.
“We had to make sacrifices, such as the shinty and track athletic competitions, but we made the changes.
“There was a significant cost to this, but we provided better tuning facilities and allowed band followers to get closer to the bands.
“There were still complaints.”
Malcolm added: “I had three or four meetings with the RSPBA before the event and one or two afterwards. The RSPBA feedback is not always the same as bands. Some of the feedback is informed by pipe band internet forums and Facebook comments.
“While the bands appreciated the better facilities there were, in the last couple of years, still rumblings of discontent from them.”
So what will the games, post 2014, look like? There will still be the World Highland Dancing championships, heavy athletics and solo piping.
Malcolm said: “Our hope is that we can move towards bringing the fun element back.
“Many of the bands say that Cowal is no fun anymore. But they come here to win prestigious trophies – not for a fun day out.
“It may be we can work with the RSPBA to have the bands marching up the street in the morning.”
Ronnie added: “The new pipe band competition will start later in the day and will all take place in the main arena.
“We are thinking about making the top field more family friendly. We are looking at various things to do there and we would welcome suggestions. Maybe clan tents, craft areas – this is an opportunity to do that.
“The cost of holding a major is significant so we will be able to reduce ticket pricing to encourage day trippers.
“From every ticket, between £5 and £5.50 goes towards the cost of staging a major.”
Ronnie concluded by saying: “The bottom line here is that the major competition has outgrown the facilities we have here.”
Cowal Highland Gathering currently receives over £90,000 per year in funding (£56,000 in cash, the rest in kind) from Argyll and Bute Council. A council spokeswoman said it was too early to say how this funding would be affected by the news.
Argyll and Bute Council’s lead councillor for community and culture, Louise Glen-Lee, said: “This is extremely bad news. Cowal Highland Gathering has enjoyed a long tradition as one of the most prestigious major pipe band championships in the world. The event is crucial to Cowal and to the Argyll and Bute economy as a whole.
“Argyll and Bute Council has supported Cowal Highland Gathering for many years. We will be meeting urgently with other key agencies and politicians to discuss what can be done about this situation.”
The event currently brings around £3.7m to the local economy.
See Friday’s Dunoon Observer for reaction and comment.