Scotland’s main Highland Games body under pressure to offer transgender competitions

Scotland’s main Highland Games body, which has faced strong criticism over its lack of gender equality for female athletes, will today be under pressure to discuss including transgender non-binary categories in its events.
A competitor throwing the hammer at a Highland Games event in Scotland. Picture: GettyA competitor throwing the hammer at a Highland Games event in Scotland. Picture: Getty
A competitor throwing the hammer at a Highland Games event in Scotland. Picture: Getty

The Scottish Highland Games Association (SHGA), representing over 60 Games north of the border, is meeting the Scottish Government later this month to lobby for funding.

It is facing internal pressure to develop strategies on both gender equality and non-binary representation.

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Moving towards making Games more inclusive follows last month’s announcement by Scottish Athletics, the national governing body for athletics in Scotland, that all their championship events would include a non-binary gender category.

Willie Rennie. Pic: Greg MacveanWillie Rennie. Pic: Greg Macvean
Willie Rennie. Pic: Greg Macvean

The Scottish 5K Championships at Silverknowes, Edinburgh, in April, will be one of the first such events.

Ahead of today’s meeting in Perth, Ian Grieve, SHGA secretary, sent committee members an email about demands to allow women to compete in the Games in which he said “It might not stop there”, before highlighting the link to Scottish Athletics’ new policy on non-binary categories.

The Scottish Government meeting is organised by Scottish Lib Dem leader Willie Rennie – an SHGA member who competes in Highland Games as a hill runner. Last year Rennie was named chieftain of Cupar Highland Games.

In December, Rhoda Grant, Labour MSP for the Highlands and Islands, said if organisers wanted Scottish Government funding they would need to be seen as an organisation treating people as equals.

Speaking ahead of today’s meeting, Grieve said: “We don’t have an official policy view on non-binary events, but we may discuss it.

“It is definitely going to get more complex. There might even be other categories out there as well.

“Scottish Athletics are being a wee bit progressive. Good luck to them.”

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James Morton, manager at Scottish Trans Alliance, said: “Highland Games should showcase positive traditions but not out-dated sexist exclusion. With such a wide range of Highland Game events, including tossing the caber, running, highland dancing and solo piping, there doesn’t need to be a one-size-fits-all approach.

“For example, it may turn out that all bagpipers could compete against each other regardless of sex/gender, while for running events the Highland Games might wish to choose to adopt the same inclusion policies as Scottish Athletics.

Morton added: “For heavy events such as tossing the caber and tug o’ war, it may turn out that fairness and safety of competitors means grouping based on physical characteristics such as height and/or weight and lifting ability rather than sex/gender. We hope the Scottish Highland Games Association will embrace bringing these exciting Scottish traditional sports to ever wider audiences and diverse competitors. The basic vital step of including women competitors should clearly be the top priority.”