Women to compete at Highland Games after campaign to promote gender balance

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Women will be able to compete in a range of events at Scotland’s Highland Games after organisers gave in to pressure by campaigners to promote a gender balance.

Officials at the Scottish Highland Games Association, (SHGA) which has over 60 members north of the border, have agreed to meet the equalities officer from Scottish Athletics – regarded as a world leader for inclusivity in sport – to see how to incorporate their policies.

A woman prepares to toss the caber at the North Berwick Highland Games. Picture: Gordon Fraser

A woman prepares to toss the caber at the North Berwick Highland Games. Picture: Gordon Fraser

Scottish Athletics are hosting the Scottish 5K Championships at Silverknowes in Edinburgh in May which includes a “non-binary” gender category, one of the first events to do so.

The move towards inclusivity comes after a “peace-seeking” meeting last week convened by Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie, who is a member of the SHGA, a former chieftain at Cupar Highland Games and a regular competitor in hill races.

SHGA officials had told Scotland on Sunday last December that there was not enough time or prize money to have more women’s events – and that tourists came to Scotland to see “traditional” Highland Games.

Rennie said: “The current model of running Highland Games is not sustainable. That’s now understood by those who run and participate.

“But there are ways of making changes to allow all Games to be inclusive.

“Some of the Games are independently run, so we would need to work with them to ensure they see the worth of new, inclusive Games in the community.

“This can be easily done by adopting best practice, so it shouldn’t overburden the Games. This will allow Scotland to project modern and inclusive values to visitors from all over the world.”

Rennie also said that while Games receive no public funding at present there is a possibility that when issues are resolved the SHGA could apply to Event Scotland’s Growth Fund which helps promote Scotland’s national and international events.

Rennie said changes would involve training more “handicappers” to allow men and women to compete in the same events, or could see new categories, such as races for women only.

An SHGA spokesman said: “We had a good meeting with representatives from Event Scotland, Scottish Athletics and the MSPs Willie Rennie and Maurice Corry.

“The primary purpose was sharing information and best practice. A number of items are being followed up including attracting more visitors to local games events, improving event management, and attracting more athletes to participate, inclusively and equally.

“To further this aim, the SHGA will obtain information and guidance from partner bodies and provide this to the 60 plus independent community events which form its membership.”

James Morton, manager at Scottish Trans Alliance, said reaching a wider diversity of audiences and competitors will help keep important traditional sports thriving.

“The key priority must be the long overdue full inclusion of women in Highland Games events. However, it is sensible and efficient to proactively consider transgender people rather than try to sweep this complexity under the carpet.”