It’s not the end of the Worlds

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By Stuart Letford for Bagpipe.News

Stuart Letford

The confirmation that the World Pipe Band Championships (as well as the Scottish Pipe Band Championships) will not take place this year, will come as no surprse to the pipe band world. At the very least, it gives us certainty. The news seems to have been met with resignation rather than disappointment from most pipers and drummers. While the cases of COVID-19 transmission in Scotland, and indeed the United Kingdom (UK), are going down – at the time of writing, new infections are either very low or zero in large parts of the UK – this is not the case in other parts of the world and there is a very real danger of variants being imported – see below. Our political representatives are right to be cautious: surely we don’t wish a repeat of the mistakes made last summer? A cursory glance through the Worlds’ programmes over the last few years indicates that almost one third of bands competing ‘on the Green’ are from overseas.

Unfortunately, whilst outdoor band practices are likely to be permitted this summer, there isn’t now a competitive incentive for them. We can only hope that bandsmen and women will stay motivated and maintain practices and participate in any civic events that may be able to go ahead. More importantly, we hope that those bands with a teaching structure will redouble their efforts is this regard. This is vital for the future of piping (and drumming). Read Simon McKerrell’s blog that appeared here a fortnight ago on this subject.

In late March, the Scottish Government provided a degree of clarification (with the “subject to change” caveat) for the events industry. While it gave the Glasgow Life and the RSPBA an idea of the practicalities involved, clearly these proved logistically impracticable in the case of the Worlds. The reduction in revenue as a result of a smaller audience will also have been a factor.

The news of the cancellation of the Worlds came yesterday in a statement from Glasgow Life, Glasgow City Council’s charitable arm that stages our flagship event. Dr. Bridget McConnell, its Chief Executive said simply: “Having taken time to explore several delivery options together, it is clear to all involved that we can’t stage anything like the World Championships people know and love. We hope to be able to welcome bands and supporters back to Glasgow Green next summer.”

This, although likely, has not been agreed yet. Several years ago, Glasgow City Council outbid Belfast for the right to host the Worlds until 2021. It is, therefore, now up for negotiation. The World Pipe Band Championships used to take place at different towns and cities around the United Kingdom each year but has settled on Glasgow since 1986. It is highly probable, however, that terms will be agreed and the Worlds will indeed return to ‘the Green’ in 2022.

Clearly, this is now the second year the World Pipe Band Championships have been cancelled because of the impact of the global COVID-19 pandemic. Thankfully, most of the piping and pipe band world has a degree of perspective and will agree that some things are more important than our hobby, even those of us who may take it much more seriously than others.

This pandemic has taught us that no amount of healthcare can reverse an unhealthy environment or self-destructive behaviour. Too many people, sadly, seem to demonstrate such behaviour all too readily. COVID-19 has killed c3m people globally and caused chronic disease in millions more. However, its management has harmed the lives and livelihoods of all of us. Deep divisions remain: among politicians, public health experts, the media and the public about how to manage this pandemic. We should be wary of the keyboard experts with no background in science or medicine who bemoan the cancellation of the Worlds and, in fact, our entire competitive season for the second year running.

Pipe bands need competitions. As I wrote in a blog piece last year, these will return – when it is safe to do so. There were no competitions during the two global skirmishes of last century and when the second one ended, society was revitalised. In Scotland this led to the inauguration of the World Pipe Band Championships itself. We will return ‘to the Green’ in 2022.

Celtic (Nelson) Pipe Band from New Zealand.
Celtic (Nelson) Pipe Band from New Zealand competing at the Worlds in 2019.

We live in an incredibly connected world now. In former times, a virus would have taken years, decades even, to spread around the planet. This one took a few days. As I write, it’s clear we are far from out of the woods with this damn virus:

  • The Indian capital city, Delhi is the main source of COVID positive cases arriving at Canadian airports since they started testing everyone in February.
  • Yesterday, it was confirmed in New Zealand that one worker at Auckland airport – a cleaner – has caused a localised spike in cases after she contracted the virus when cleaning aeroplanes arriving from high risk countries.
  • A single flight from Delhi to Hong Kong has led to 47 imported cases there. All were required to do pre-departure testing and all were tested upon arrival.

As this website reported three weeks ago, Piping Live! will go ahead this year (August 7-15). The festival, created in 2003, occurs on the run-up to the Worlds and planing has been under way for weeks now, regardless of whether or not the Worlds would go ahead. It is too early to decide on the format this year’s festival, the 18th, will take but if a live audience can be accommodated in some form (my italics) then it will.