March 31, 2000

The RSPBA Continues to Amaze

What sad irony.

The Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association holds its annual general meeting last Saturday and its membership votes to move forward on the sweeping report from the organization’s ad hoc Millennium Group. Implementing the dramatic changes in the report will mean an almost complete upheaval of the RSPBA as we know it.

An essential recommendation in the Millennium Group’s report is for the RSPBA to be a more “international” organization, to work more closely with pipe band associations around the world, and even learn from their successes and failures.

So what bitter irony it was that, at the very same meeting, the membership agreed to adopt the new “League Table” system for the World Pipe Band Championships without even bothering to ask “overseas” bands and associations for their thoughts on the matter.

Here we have the RSPBA looking to be a more open, communicative and international organization, while simultaneously continuing with its traditional, blinkered and sandbagged view of the pipe band world.

Simply put, the League Table system is a slap in the face of the world’s non-RSPBA Grade 1 bands. Not only does it put unrealistic and unfair pressure on “overseas” bands to travel to an additional RSPBA major championship to increase their chance of pre-qualifying for the final at the World Championships, it is a disrespect to the very bands that have made their World Championships the event it is.

It also gives RSPBA bands that would likely never get into the final at the World’s under the previous format a chance to pre-qualify by nicking a sixth prize in horrendous conditions at Ayr, or some other contest that can be more like a lottery than a fair test of skill.

To our knowledge, the RSPBA never consulted affiliate organizations around the world for their input. Not one non-RSPBA Grade 1 band – not even the ones that have attended the World Championships faithfully for the last 18 years straight – was asked for their thoughts. The League Table system was pushed through in what appears to be one of the most duplicitous and underhanded ways imaginable by keeping the whole thing quiet until it came time to vote on it.

The RSPBA could easily have proposed much the same League Table format, but also earmarked competitions around the world – the North American Championship and the New Zealand Championship, for example – where the winner would also qualify for the World’s final. Not only would that fairly recognize the extremely high pipe band standard in those areas, but it would also encourage RSPBA bands to travel to those competitions for a change.

But no. While the RSPBA simply presumes the top bands from around the universe will make their way to their championships (without being offered so much as a boiled burger as incentive), they continually insist that the World Pipe Band Championships could never be held outside of the UK unless everything – airfare, accommodation, and meals – is paid for every band.

The RSPBA continually thumbs its nose at the competition scenes in Ontario, British Columbia and New Zealand despite the fact that bands from those areas have routinely given RSPBA bands a sound thumping every August for the past 15 years.

Clearly, the RSPBA wants it both ways: it wants to market itself to the world, to improve its political structure, to make more money for the bands, but it also apparently wants to continue to be the parochial society of British bands it has been since 1946.

If anything has encouraged North American ingenuity to create a new, invitational “Universal Pipe Band Championship,” this has got to be it. The RSPBA will only have themselves to blame in five years (or fewer), when a real World Championship takes place in New York or Toronto or Los Angeles.


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