August 21, 2023

Sources: alleged incomplete judge’s summary sheet at the heart of World’s Grade 1 fiasco

As the piping and drumming world waits for clarity from the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association on what exactly transpired during the World Pipe Band Championships, several possibilities have emerged from a variety of credible sources.

What is known to be true:

  • The RSPBA staged two days of the Grade 1 World Pipe Band Championships on Friday, August 18th, and Saturday, August 19th, at Glasgow Green. All other grades of contests were run on the Saturday.
  • The prizes were announced accordingly between 7 pm and 8 pm on Saturday with no apparent hiccups and definitely no verbal statements from the RSPBA.
  • Peoples Ford Boghall & Bathgate Caledonia were announced the overall winners of the World Championship – a popular and heart-warming award that had eluded the band for 52 years.
  • Shortly after the result was announced, all 16 Grade 1 bands were provided with a pre-prepared letter saying, “the overall placing of the Adjudicator concerned will not be included in this year’s computation of results.”
  • Summary sheets issued to the same bands clearly showed that the results in question were those of Friday Grade 1 MSR adjudicator Nat Russell.

Rumours have floated around about some of Russell’s nullified rankings. We have not been able to confirm whether any of those reports are true, and we simply do not know for sure where he placed any of the 16 competing Grade 1 bands.

New reports

What has emerged from several credible sources, who spoke on condition that their name not be disclosed, is that the issue was purportedly not to do with Russell’s rankings, and only to do with the “administrative shortcomings” the association ambiguously alluded to in their letter to the 16 Grade 1 bands issued immediately after the results were announced.

These “administrative shortcomings,” according to at least three sources, allegedly included an incomplete overall summary sheet that every RSPBA is required to complete in full. Reportedly, the summary sheet in question contained blanks, with some bands having rankings, and others with none.

Again according to sources, representatives from the association were unsuccessful in obtaining a summary sheet that was properly completed. Rather than using Russell’s incomplete results, the RSPBA decided not to use any of them.

If – and we stress if – the summary sheet was ultimately incomplete, one can see why nullifying whatever rankings were included would make a certain amount of sense, no matter how much one might disagree with the association’s decision.

We have reached out to Nat Russell and RSPBA Chief Executive Colin Mulhearn twice for clarity, but no response has been received from either of them.

RSPBA adjudicators purportedly go through extensive training on completing the administrative paperwork, including their overall summary of rankings, which is crucial to the correct tabulation of results.

None of the 16 Grade 1 bands received a copy of Russell’s scoresheet – also referred to in the UK as a “crit sheet” – in the package of sheets and summaries issued after the contest. The other 15 judges’ sheets were included.

Unlike most associations, the RSPBA does not ask judges to include their ranking of each band on that band’s scoresheet, for the reason that an RSPBA director picks up all four scoresheets after each band plays. The judge only creates their summary of rankings when all contestants have competed.

Even if bands received Russell’s scoresheet, it would not indicate how he ranked each band.

Up until only a few years ago, there was only one copy of every crit sheet, so judges had to work from memory or their own crib notes to formulate their final rankings. There are now two, so judges can retain them as written notes to remind them how they assessed each competing band.

Presumably, Nat Russell has duplicate copies of the scoresheets he completed.

We do not know when the meeting between RSPBA directors and Russell occurred or when the choice to nullify all his results was made.

According to a summary sheet of the Saturday Grade 4A Qualifying heat group 1, Nat Russell is listed as Piping Judge 1, as he was always scheduled to be. That suggests that, at the time of the Grade 4A Heat 1 Group 1 competition, there had not been any longer-term action, such as a suspension, against Russell for not adhering to administrative requirements.

Here is the Grade 4A Heat 1 Group 1 summary sheet distributed to competing bands. It was provided to us in two images. We pieced them together here for clarity:

We have confirmed that Russell did indeed judge the Grade 4A heat, and a reserve judge was not used.

Looking at his Grade 4A Heat 1 Group 1 rankings, they are not consistently widely out of sync with his fellow piping judge.

Consultation lacking

We believe that none of the 16 Grade 1 bands was consulted by the RSPBA about how the Grade 1 competition would proceed, and that the RSPBA’s directors made the decision on their own to nullify Russell’s results.

It was not until after the prizes were announced that the decision to nullify Russell’s complete or partial results came to light.

Had the organization conferred with Grade 1 representatives with thorough and accurate details of what had transpired, perhaps they would have agreed that nullifying the results was indeed the best solution. If not, they might have come up with a different way forward, possibly:

  • Asking all bands to submit both sets in the Saturday MSR with a random draw at the line, throwing out all Friday MSR results.
  • Run two MSR contests on Saturday, with the same set of judges from Friday, with a new piping judge, or an altogether new group of judges. (Difficult, because all other grades were also competing Saturday, but conceivably possible, since there were accredited judges attending in the audience but not working.)

But the RSPBA apparently going ahead without consulting member bands presents a potentially serious problem for the organization. A case can be made that the association created a rule on the spot since there is no apparent provision for a judge submitting an incomplete summary and then refusing to complete it.

(Again, we stress that we do not know for sure that this was the case; it’s what we have been told by reliable sources, and not by Russell himself.)

But creating rules for a member-based organization without consulting members is risky. That this was done at the most important and largest competition of the year, with some bands investing upward of $200,000 to participate, is even more disconcerting.

At publication time, more than two days have passed since this debacle came to light. Apart from the ambiguous letter sent to the 16 Grade 1 bands, the RSPBA has not provided any further clarity.

Because of the lack of additional and complete clarity, rumours and conjecture inevitably run rampant. In this instance, many appear to assume that it was a concern with rumoured rankings that caused the RSPBA to take action. If our sources are correct, the decision to nullify Russell’s results had nothing to do with rankings, and everything to do with an incomplete summary sheet.

The standard communications rule of thumb is that silence is considered to be acceptance.

There are so many uncertainties and so little detail that, an astonishing number of days later, the silence is increasingly unacceptable.




  1. I’m glad it’s looking like an administrative foul than something with Nat. One can’t help but think that the RSPBA should have released a statement disclosing the reason they would not be including the score for Friday’s MSR. If it was administrative then say so. Don’t leave it ambiguous. That leaves room for people to question the integrity of the judge. I did. Not for long, reason kicked in and I reminded myself that I didn’t and probably never would know what’s the reason was. This whole thing is one more reason for transparency

  2. That makes no sense. An incomplete summary sheet? The RSPBA in coordination with Nat had a day to get the sheet completed for final Grade 1 ranking tabulation. If he could complete the summary sheet for the Grade 4A on Saturday, why couldn’t he do so for the Grade 1 MSR? If there was ever a time for complete transparency from the RSPBA and from Nat, it is now. Not a good look at all.

  3. We know that [if] he places one particular band 14th. There were only 16 bands. If this is true – than he basically forgot to place last place? – not sure I buy that…



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