'Bleak' outlook for return of Highland Games this year as organisers pull plug across the country

Highland Games events across Scotland are being forced to pull the plug this year due to uncertainty over what coronavirus restrictions will be in place when they are due to go ahead.

Highland Games events are normally worth £25 million to the Scottish economy. Picture: Bill Robertson

More than a dozen events have been called off recently over concerns about the potential impact of possible travel restrictions and social distancing rule.

The Scottish Highland Games Association, which expects others to follow over the next few weeks, said the prospect for the forthcoming season was “bleak”, despite the vaccine roll-out.Research published three years ago found that Highland Games events generated more than £25 million to the Scottish economy each year.

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One in four visitors to the games, which are staged between May and September, were believed to be from overseas.

Its members are facing looming deadlines to decide whether to commit resources for events without knowing how financially viable they will be if audience numbers are capped.

Highland Games events on the Isle of Skye, and at Glamis Castle in Angus, Cupar in Fife, Kenmore in Perthshire, Lochcarron in the Highlands and Tomintoul in Moray have been called off in the last fortnight.

Ian Grieve, secretary of the Scottish Highland Games Association, which oversees more than 60 events, said: “We thought we we just write off the whole season last year and everything would be back to normal in 2021. But I really don’t know if any will happen this year.

“It's looking pretty bleak already with 13 events cancelled and we’re not even out of February.

More than 60 Highland Games events are usually held across Scotland each year. Picture: Bill Robertson

“I’d expect to see a few more cancel in the next month, especially those due to happen in May and June. Later ones will maybe hang fire till April before they start committing expenditure. Each will have their own cut-off point.

"But there was nothing at all in the First Minister’s announcement this week about mass gatherings.

“We just need to keep our fingers crossed that the combination of the lockdown we’ve been in and the vaccine makes things a bit more manageable. But it’s all very difficult for everyone at the moment.”

A statement from the Isle of Skye Highland Games said: “Although things are hopefully improving there can be no guarantee as to what the situation will be like in August.

"Apart from the two World Wars, our Games have never had to be cancelled (until last year), but these are difficult times and the health and wellbeing of our community has to be our main priority.”

A statement from Strathmore Highland Games, which is staged at Glamis Castle, said of its cancellation: "We truly hoped when we cancelled last year’s event that it would be a one-off situation and we’d be ready to showcase the best of games talent this year in a welcoming and safe manner.

"Having studied the most recent Scottish Government guidelines for large events, we are in no doubt that this is the only responsible action we can take.”

A statement from Cupar Highland Games said: “The decision has been taken in light of the current Covid-19 situation and the strong likelihood that some form of limitations on gatherings may well extend into the summer period. A further factor in our consideration is that travel and tourism is unlikely to return to anywhere near to normal conditions.”

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