Highland Games introduces female-only events to beat 'intimidating' atmosphere

A major Highland Games is to introduce female-only sporting events to boost competitors amid an ‘intimidating’ atmosphere for women athletes.

Aboyne Highland Games, one of the largest events and renowned for its sporting programme, will introduce four female athletic events. The 100, 220 and 440-yard races will be split into male and female categories – along with the high jump – for the first time in a bid to tackle dwindling numbers of female athletes.

Previously, the events were held on the “scratch” system, where all athletes competed together from the same starting point.

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Coralie Arthur, from the Aboyne Games Committee, a cross triathlete who has competed for Great Britain, said splitting the races could attract more women to compete. Ms Arthur said: “The number of women in these events has fallen steadily in the last few years, and we’re keen to reverse this trend.

Former Aboyne Academy pupil and Scotland team athlete Kathryn Christie. PIC: Moyra Gray.Former Aboyne Academy pupil and Scotland team athlete Kathryn Christie. PIC: Moyra Gray.
Former Aboyne Academy pupil and Scotland team athlete Kathryn Christie. PIC: Moyra Gray.

“Lining up at the start of a race next to a large gathering of men can be intimidating for many women – as can the experience of tailing them down the track and following them across the finish line.

"By separating out the sexes, we hope to create a more inclusive and empowering environment for all the great women out there who are just waiting to take part, but need that little bit more encouragement.

"Once the exclusive preserve of men, nowadays the Aboyne Games is about encouraging and celebrating all athletic talent irrespective of gender, so we feel it’s important to do all we can to increase the accessibility of our events.”

Highland Games around Fife, the Central Belt and Tayside typically use a handicap system to allow fairer competition among a mix of athletes and abilities. But the scratch system, which was previously used at Aboyne, tends to be more commonly found further north, according to the Royal Scottish Highland Games Association.

A handful of games offer single sex sporting events, including Oban, it is understood.

Aboyne Highland Games, which was founded in 1867, will be held on August 5. Women wishing to take part must register online by Friday, July 28.

Around 102 traditional events will be held on the day, including Highland dancing, solo piping and fiddle competitions, pipes bands, athletic events, tug o' war, and a hill race.

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The Aberdeenshire event, held under the patronage of Granville Gordon, the 13th Marquis of Huntly, attracts crowds of up to 10,000 people each year. It is one of around 60 Highland Games events to be held this summer, with the first games with a full sporting programme to be held this weekend at Blackford in Perthshire.

The prize pot for the athletes in Scotland is worth around £250,000 a year. Participants travel from across the world to compete.

At Aboyne last year, the star athlete was Vlad Tulacek, from the Czech Republic, who won most open heavy events and broke the ground record for the 56lb weight over the bar, clearing 17ft 3ins.

The athlete also won the open caber event and was given the chance to throw the Aboyne Caber, which measures more than 23ft long and weighs 130lbs. He was unable to successfully land the caber, with the challenge to be picked up again in August.



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