September 29, 2023

Survey shows World’s Grade 1 pipe-majors’ trust in RSPBA has declined; dissatisfaction with handling of results matter

Association members want transparency

Results of a pipes|drums survey of the pipe-majors of the 16 Grade 1 bands that competed in the 2023 World Championships show overwhelming discontent with how the Royal Scottish Pipe Band Association handled the Friday MSR judging controversy during and after the competition. The survey also indicates a further erosion of trust in the organization.

The survey asked all 16 leaders for their input on the condition that results would be compiled only collectively, apart from any written comments the pipe-majors would like to provide. They were assured that individual responses would be kept confidential and anonymous.

Three leaders did not participate, despite our best efforts. That is their prerogative, and the results presented here likely would not change substantially. A few respondents did not answer every question.

To refresh readers’ memories, the 2023 World Championship produced what is probably the most controversial handling of a contest in the century-old history of pipe band competitions. The RSPBA excluded the results from Friday’s Grade 1 MSR piping judge Nat Russell for unknown reasons.

The association provided only an ambiguous written statement to Grade 1 pipe-majors immediately after the announcement of the aggregate prize-winners at the march past Saturday. No official public statements from either the association or Russell have been issued. Rumours have flown around, but neither party has disclosed the details that led to the RSPBA’s decision to act as they did.

Our survey questions and results:

What is your opinion of the final OVERALL top-six 2023 World’s Grade 1 prize list?

The final 1-6 prize list was spot on – 43%

The final 1-6 prize list should have been different, but the winner was correct – 43%

The final 1-6 prize list, including the winner, should have been different – 14%

Our take: In hindsight, we probably should not have included this question since the survey is not about the results, per se. The prize list does not matter here. What matters is how it was derived. The percentages here would probably be similar with every competition.

What is your opinion of the RSPBA’s decision to exclude Nat Russell’s results from the Friday MSR calculation?

It was the correct decision – 0%

It was the wrong decision – 1%

I don’t know enough details about what truly happened to form an opinion – 89%

Our take: We can conclude that the bands that competed, like the rest of the piping and drumming world, simply don’t know why the RSPBA made its decision to nullify Russell’s results. There are plenty of rumours floating around, many to the detriment of Russell, but until the RSPBA or Russell go on the record as to what actually occurred, the rumours will continue and a cloud will hang over the 2023 World’s.

On a scale of one to ten (one being completely unacceptable and ten being completely acceptable), how would you rate the RSPBA’s handling of the matter?

Score: 1.2 out of 10.

Our take: Overwhelmingly, the Grade 1 pipe-majors who responded to the survey have a dim view of the way the matter has been handled. It’s difficult to understand why the RSPBA does not communicate officially how it arrived at its decision, but, with every passing day, the matter will fester.

Should the RSPBA have informed competing Grade 1 bands about the situation before the Saturday competitions?

Yes – 67%

No – 33%

Our take: Two-thirds of respondents feel they should have been told what occurred before the second day of competition. The RSPBA instead kept a lid on the matter until after the final results were announced and, even then, released a highly ambiguous communication to the 16 contestants.

Since you answered Yes, what more, if anything, should the RSPBA have done?

They should have asked Grade 1 leaders for their approval of their proposed solution – 83%

They should have asked Grade 1 leaders for alternative solutions – 17%

Our take: Of the 67% who said that they should have been informed about the matter before the Saturday events, the majority felt that all that was needed was a request for their approval to move ahead. What might have happened after that, we obviously will never know.

How will the RSPBA’s handling of the matter affect your plans to compete at future World Championships?

It has positively affected our plans to return – 0%

It has negatively affected our plans to return – 31%

It has had no effect on our plans – 69%

Our take: Despite the debacle, more than two-thirds of the pipe-majors who responded to the survey said that the whole thing doesn’t alter their desire to return back to the World Pipe Band Championships. This might explain why the RSPBA has once again swept the matter under the rug; they know that bands will keep coming back no matter what.

What do you think should still happen regarding the judging matter?

The RSPBA should be completely and publicly transparent about what exactly occurred – 88%

The RSPBA should be completely transparent only with Grade 1 bands competing at the event about what exactly occurred – 12%

Nothing. Let’s all move on – 0%

Our take: It’s the last number of zero respondents who seemingly don’t want things swept under the rug again that surprises us. Everyone wants clarity on the matter, and most feel it should be not simply to the competing bands but to anyone interested.

How has the matter impacted your level of trust in the RSPBA?

My trust in the RSPBA has improved – 0%

My trust in the RSPBA has declined – 75%

My trust in the RSPBA has not been affected – 25%

Our take: The issue and the handling of it have negatively affected Grade 1 bands’ trust in the association. Trust is perhaps more important than anything as a competition-running entity. Trust is easy to erode but extremely difficult to regain. The RSPBA has a lot of work to do.

Since the event finished, has the RSPBA contacted you or your band to discuss the matter?

Yes – 0%

No – 100%

Our take: This is, in a word, astonishing. The world’s greatest exponents of the pipe band art, several of which annually invest more than $100,000 to attend the event, have been ignored by the association that is supposed to look after their interests. No communication at all? Again, with every passing day, we can assume that members’ perception and distrust of the RSPBA will worsen.

To conclude the survey, we invited respondents to include any written thoughts they might have. These are the comments we received from only five respondents who chose to express their opinion in writing:

Do you have any comments? Please be assured that your name or band will NOT be connected with any comments you provide.

  • “Where to start? For years judging bias has been evident and in open sight, but bands and their members cannot be vocal for fear of recriminations. Judges should be required to declare a business, familial or personal association prior to judging a grade. This would protect them and hopefully make them become more accountable for apparent wayward placings. I don’t know enough about why Mr. Russell’s scores were discounted but the RSPBA’s silence is disappointing and unsurprising.”
  • “The trust in the judging panel is non existent and surely the very first people to react to this and ask for clarification are the judges themselves as its all their reputations on the line.”
  • “It is difficult to answer all of these questions accurately. I was not judging the competition, just competing, and the recordings never give us a true reflection. A decision had to be made and that lies with the Board of Directors. More information is needed to form a full opinion. As for results . . . that’s not for us to comment on.”
  • “The handling of this has been shambolic from all involved. The association and by extension the APMB [the RSPBA’s Adjudicator Panel Management Board] have far too much power over decision making. This decision was made and carried out with no regard for the bands whatsoever and bands cannot challenge this decision for fear of retribution. I have zero trust or faith in any decision made by the RSPBA or APMB and personally believe it needs total reform. The association is there to represent the bands, not dictate to them. Their responsibility is to do right by and for the bands collectively, this is not how the association operates. The APMB have too much influence over all judges, judging is subjective, but judges who do not “conform” to the general consensus are at risk of being over looked, cast aside or worse still, made a scapegoat. The external view is that the APMB has become a dictatorship being ran by a couple of very powerful people. Not good at all for competition!”
  • “The first question about the top six is a bit challenging. My opinion is that the top six should be the top six based on all results. We don’t know how Nat’s result would have impacted it, so difficult to say. I think the top six were okay in my opinion, but in our world, it’s all the judges’ opinion that counts.”

We stress that our coverage of the matter is strictly because it is highly newsworthy. It has nothing to do with the final result itself. We don’t care who won or received a prize. Our only interests are in reporting the news and that this and every competition is fair and unbiased. We’re pleased with every band’s success.

We recognize that, whatever occurred, the RSPBA almost certainly was in a complicated situation. Reasonable people will recognize this, but only if all the facts come out. If, in hindsight, it might have been better to take a different tack, that’s also understandable. Mistakes happen, especially if circumstances are unprecedented.

On the other hand, as we see it, the fundamental functions of every association for competing pipers, drummers and pipe bands are: 1. To promote and foster the art of piping and drumming, 2. To establish and safeguard rules to create a fair and equitable system for piping, drumming and pipe band competitions.

Has the RSPBA fulfilled those two fundamental mandates? Maybe, but until we know exactly what happened, we can’t possibly decide confidently.

Until the piping and drumming world knows exactly what occurred, a cloud will perpetually hover over the 2023 World Championships. That’s unfair to the RSPBA’s members.

Again, the competing members – not the judges, stewards, administrators, executives, board of directors or office workers – are the RSPBA. The others are there to serve the bands. All too often, the competing bands might be made to feel they are serving the interests of the others we list. If that is true, and we believe it is, things must change.

We encourage both the RSPBA and Nat Russell to tell their side of the story clearly and fully so that safeguards might be put in place to mitigate the chance of this kind of debacle occurring again.

Our thanks to the pipe-majors who responded to our survey.

As with every pipes|drums story, we encourage readers to express their reasonable and respectful opinions or views using our Comments feature below. For liability reasons, these are reviewed before they are published. Comments on social media cannot be reviewed before they are posted automatically on those publishing sites, so we generally turn them off for that reason. Thank you for reading.




  1. Can you not even reveal who the three bands who refused to take part in the survey where? The most revealing question in the survey is the one about plans to compete at further world championships, at the end of the day bands will return, compete, listen to the results, and then complain about them. Twas ever thus!

  2. We won’t disclose which pipe-majors responded, as we promised anonymity and that the results (apart from the written comments) would be used only collectively. Thanks for reading and commenting.



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