The future of Highland Games events looks ‘bleak’ according to an organiser who said they expect more to be cancelled in the coming months.
Some 13 games, staged between May and September, have already been called off over concerns about the potential impact of travel restrictions and social distancing.
Events generated more than £25m for the economy each year, with one in four visitors believed to be from overseas.
Events on the Isle of Skye, and at Glamis Castle in Angus, Cupar in Fife, Kenmore in Perthshire, Lochcarron in the Highlands and Tomintoul in Moray have been called off.
Ian Grieve, secretary of the Scottish Highland Games Association, which oversees more than 60 events, described the situation as ‘difficult’ for organisers.
Members face looming deadlines to decide whether to commit resources for events without knowing how financially viable they will be if audience numbers are capped.
Mr Grieve told The Scotsman: “We thought we would just write off the whole season last year and everything would be back to normal in 2021.
“But I really don’t know if any will happen this year. It’s looking pretty bleak already with 13 events cancelled and we’re not even out of February.
“I’d expect to see a few more cancel in the next month, especially those due to happen in May and June.
“Later ones will maybe hang fire till April before they start committing expenditure.
“Each will have their own cut-off point, but there was nothing at all in the First Minister’s announcement this week about mass gatherings.
“We just need to keep our fingers crossed that the combination of the lockdown we’ve been in and the vaccine makes things a bit more manageable.
“But it’s all very difficult for everyone at the moment.”
Last year was the first time since the Second World War that games on Skye have been called off.
A statement from the Isle of Skye Highland Games said: “Although things are hopefully improving there can be no guarantee as to what the situation will be like in August.
“Apart from the two World Wars, our Games have never had to be cancelled (until last year), but these are difficult times and the health and wellbeing of our community has to be our main priority.”
A statement from Strathmore Highland Games, staged at Glamis Castle, said: “We truly hoped when we cancelled last year’s event that it would be a one-off situation and we’d be ready to showcase the best of games talent this year in a welcoming and safe manner.
“Having studied the most recent Scottish Government guidelines for large events, we are in no doubt that this is the only responsible action we can take.”
A statement from Cupar Highland Games said: “The decision has been taken in light of the current Covid-19 situation and the strong likelihood that some form of limitations on gatherings may well extend into the summer period.
“A further factor in our consideration is that travel and tourism is unlikely to return to anywhere near to normal conditions.”
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