Scotland’s Highland Games organisers have caved into demands to promote gender equality by allowing female athletes to compete.
The Scottish Highland Games Association (SHGA), representing over 60 Games across the country, said yesterday that “opportunities for female athletes will multiply this year.”
It is understood the decision has been heavily influenced by the need to obtain funding from bodies such as Event Scotland, which requires evidence of diversity.
Previously The Scotsman highlighted SHGA objections to increasing female participation such as insufficient time to hold events for women, or that tourists, particularly from the US, wanted to see “traditional” Games.
The decision to ‘democratise the Games’ was taken on Sunday at the SHGA half-yearly meeting in Braemar following a discussion with Event Scotland which can provide up to 25 per cent of funding.
SHGA has now asked its members to run athletic events on either a handicap basis or to have separate events for men and women.
It is also creating a number of new leagues for women, so that at the end of the season athletes competing regularly will get rewarded with cash prizes and trophies, the same as men.
Launching the new policy, Ian Grieve, SHGA secretary, said: “Talking to people and looking at what was in the press, we found that there wasn’t a good awareness of what Highland games can offer female athletes, and there was more we can do to help that situation.
“We get lots of male and only some female competitors, but would like to see a lot more.”
Mr Grieve said his organisation had contacted over 100 athletic clubs across Scotland to make athletes aware of the changes, as well as printing and distributing 10,000 calendars of events and have listed details on their website.
Mr Grieve added: “The aim of all this is to raise the number of female athletes at the Highland games, if they come along they will be made very welcome.” Rhoda Grant, Scottish Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, who campaigned for changes to make the Games more diverse and inclusive, said: “I am very pleased to hear this news from the SHGA.
“Obviously it is disappointing that it took this long for them to get to this point, but the SHGA have now seen sense to join the rest of us in the 21st century and allow women to compete on a level playing field at Highland Games events.
“With growing levels of inactivity and obesity in the country, any chance to encourage participation in sports should be promoted, as well as the huge boost Highland Games give to the economy of many of our remote and rural areas.
“To exclude women would be just another hurdle that women in sport have to face.
“The Highland Games are something that draws in many tourists from around the world and I am glad that this year we will have a positive message about women in sport.”