Published: May 28, 2019

Opinion: Clean Break – a call for change – Part 1


No prospective paying members of the public are denied entry into what is a massive public park on the basis of these tickets, yet the RSPBA maintains that the exercise costs them £4,000 to undertake. Given the worryingly anticipated small entry in Grade 1 this year, bands were asked by the RSPBA to provide their views, with a majority returning that they wished to see the return of a one-day event playing back-to-back for a tangible result. The RSPBA apparently chose to ignore the feedback they sought and received, seeming to lean towards the views of adjudicators and other unknown parties instead.

I don’t know if they are taking their lead from British Members of Parliament and their handling of Brexit, but they seem to hold similar disingenuity, disregard and contempt for opinion, democratic process and public perception for players as politicians do with the public.

The life has been strangled out of the competition season by the major championship set-up, which lasts approximately 12 weeks. Many bands only compete nowadays at these championships, choosing to avoid minor competitions through a perceived fear of picking up an adverse result prior to a major championship. Although the five championship circuit is retained exclusively within the borders of the United Kingdom, many bands and players simply cannot afford the financial burden of making the back-to-back journeys to championships held in the remotest parts of the country a matter of four weeks apart, which results in particularly low entries in some grades and in some cases, potential championship contenders being absent and missing out on valuable Champion of Champions points.

The World Pipe Band Championships is now seen by many to be the finishing line, and many bands are calling it a year in mid-August while the outdoor competition season still runs until the third weekend in September. There is simply no incentive left for bands to continue competing post-World’s.

“Many bands are calling it a year in mid-August while the outdoor competition season
still runs until the third weekend in September. There is simply no incentive left
for bands to continue competing post-World’s.”

Let’s look at adjudication. In my view, I don’t think there has ever been a more ethically challenged adjudication panel than its present iteration. Many adjudicators are widely known to be easily contactable for their “opinion,” which is simply wrong. Judges often fraternize in social circles with competitors. Many judges have business-related conflicts of interest. Others with vocational conflicts of interests are fielded to adjudicate bands from the educational establishments where they are employed to teach. Judges organize private and commercially operated competitive events, one of which has subsequently become an RSPBA sanctioned event.

It’s difficult to think of a single sport in the world that would field referees who are so obviously conflicted, yet it seems to be a permitted custom and practice in the pipe band world. I am not suggesting for one second that any individual is guilty of impropriety, but in the event that a result is perceived to be unfair or unjust, these conflicts of interest become the first thing that springs to mind and have the effect of tarnishing the win for the first-placed band, tarnishing the reputation of the adjudicator, and tarnishing the integrity of the competition in the minds of other competitors and spectators. Conflicts are practically impossible to avoid, given the inherently tight-knit make-up of the pipe band community, however, these conflicts appear to be easily avoidable if properly managed, so why are they permitted to happen?




  1. Very interesting and well put together article from Scott who has very bravely put his head above the parapet to say many things that have needed saying for many years. One or two comments I would like to make in relation to the article as follows: Scott is well aware that the problems within the managerial structure of the Rspba are nothing new and have gone on for decades with absolutely no sign of any change. The problem is that a coup is required to remove these people, and replace them with those who have the pipe band movement at its heart, and in particular the most valuable asset of the organisation, the players. Therin lies the problem, the power lies with those who contribute least. Who is going to be brave enough to stage that coup and risk everything? No one, and you know why, because the very people who could and should back them, the players, will slink off into the night for fear of opening their mouth. The Rspba are mostly pretty pathetic and clueless but they are not responsible for all the ills within the organisation. I agree with Scott’s comments on capping players, this is not the easy solution that many think it is. Piping and drumming is a hobby with in the main, no financial inducement, therefore people will come and go around bands as they please. Loyalty is basically a dirty word now. That sense of community is mostly gone. A really exceptional player/players in a wee country band will be spotted, tapped up and will nowadays throw loyalty out the window and join the massed ranks of the larger grade 1 bands, thus helping to wreck their own band, contributing to a general depression within that band, in losing their best player/players, and sooner or later it goes bust. Do the grade 1 pipe majors who ruthlessly pick at the bones of a pipe band corpse like a vulture, not realise where this will end, or do they not really care. Those large bands standing in a huge circle while practicing tomorrow in Lurgan do not generate the awe and wonder that they once did, and for many it is just a profoundly depressing spectacle because we all know that this is helping to disintegrate the entire pipe band movement. Do the various pipe majors, some of whom who are lauded like greek gods, ever give that as much as a passing thought? Nah, thought not. So Scott you are bang on with your criticism of the organisation with its desperate need for reform, no question, but I feel that what also merits serious discussion is the elephant the room, that being the self inflicted destruction of the pipe band movement by those who claim to love it the most, the players.


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