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Concern over shinty TV coverage as fixtures switch faces opposition

Camanachd Cup Final
Camanachd Cup Final

Some of shinty’s showpiece cup finals could be missing from TV screens this year with a move to shift the fixtures from traditional Saturday starts facing opposition.

It is understood BBC Scotland and BBC Alba have asked to switch matches to Friday nights or Sundays as they would clash with football coverage.

Shinty’s governing body the Camanachd Association, is consulting clubs on the possible change amid concern the sport could lose vital broadcasting money and exposure if agreement cannot be reached.

The association has ruled out playing matches on Friday evenings due to travel difficulties for the amateur players and few, if any, shinty pitches having floodlights.

It has also told the broadcasters that the Camanachd Cup Final date will not be moved from Saturday, September 18.

However, some clubs are also opposed to playing on a Sunday for a number of reasons, including on religious grounds.

MacTavish Cup Final – Kinlochshiel v Newtonmore,

The shinty season has already moved from its traditional March start to June due to the pandemic, causing some cup dates to be switched.

Matches under discussion are two Camanachd Cup semi-finals, due to be played on August 28 and September 4, the Macaulay Cup Final, on August 21, the Glasgow Celtic Society Cup Final, on October 9 and the MacTavish Cup Final, on October 23.

In a letter to clubs, the association president Steven MacKenzie said televised matches  help the sport financially and brings it to a wider audience.

He said: “The option of Sunday fixtures has been discussed previously because it would help resolve some of our fixture scheduling issues.

“However, the board have been mindful that a significant element of the shinty community are strongly opposed to Sunday fixtures but have agreed to consult our members given the unprecedented issues presented by Covid.

Sunday fixtures would ‘present issues’

“We recognise that Sunday fixtures would present issues for clubs and supporters in terms of travel and have made it clear to the BBC that we are consulting our members for season 2021 only.”

Mr MacKenzie said TV coverage also attracts sponsors, adds to the prestige of shinty compared to sports of similar size and provides a national stage for players, coaches and clubs.

He warned that if the number of televised games is reduced, other sports may fill the gaps, making it easier for the broadcaster to reduce coverage in the long-term.

An association spokesman so far there has been positive feedback from some clubs willing to move, but others are against a switch.

“We will have to wait to see, but it will be really disappointing if we get the worst case scenario and don’t have televised games, especially when we’re still not sure what will happen in terms of spectators.

“We could have a case where nobody sees one of shinty’s cup finals apart from the players and coaches and that’s not a place we want to be in. It’s not good for the sport nor the fans who have been starved of action for so long already.”

Tulloch Homes Camanachd Cup Final Newtonmore v Oban Camanachd-

He said some clubs are against Sunday play, partly on religious grounds, but also to avoid players travelling long distances to finals at neutral venues the day before having to return to work.

In addition, women’s shinty is normally played on Sundays and it is felt moving the mens’ matches would detract from the growing women’s movement.

“There has been a historical unwillingness from clubs to play on a Sunday and so we feel, as a member-led organisation, it’s not our place to just say Saturdays is what BBC Alba can do so that’s what we are doing. Therefore we have put it out to consultation.

“The ideal scenario would be that BBC Alba would give us the Saturday slot for the few matches. The next preference is that the clubs vote in favour of playing on Sundays because of the benefits we get from TV which helps members, the wider community and the growth of the sport.”

He said the only other alternative is that a compromise can be reached where only some of the matches are moved.

Unanimously against moving from a Saturday

Skye Camanachd voted unanimously against the proposal.

Chairwoman Fiona Cruickshank said: “Shinty has always been a Saturday game and if you are asking players to play on a Sunday it reduces the amount of free time they have to spend with families.”

She said religious beliefs play a part in the stance, adding: “We have to take into account the community and the historic tie we have to the island.

“And as much as times are moving on, we need to be respectful to those that have been involved with the club for a long time.

“It’s maybe a step too far for us to play on a Sunday. It would be met with a lot of objections from supporters.”

It feels like this has been sprung on us

David Hamilton, secretary, Macaulay Association

David Hamilton, secretary of the Macaulay Association, said a majority of members support the status quo.

He said: “I don’t see why it’s being changed. It feels like this has been sprung on us and on the Camanachd Association.

“There are teams that won’t play on a Sunday so what is the point of having a cup competition when you know at the start if one of those teams get to the final they will not play.

“You either tell teams they are not entering the competition or we hold the final on a Saturday and we won’t have television.”

The Glasgow Celtic Society said “after careful discussion”, and taking into account the reduced shinty season, it agreed the Glasgow Celtic Society cup final, for this year only, to be moved to Sunday.

“This decision was for the good of the game and the coverage of shinty to a wider audience”
Provisionally the 2021 Glasgow Celtic Society Final will be played on Sunday October 10 at Taynuilt Sports Field.
“Hopefully in season 2022 the country and shinty will have returned to some sort of normality and the Glasgow Celtic Society Cup Final will return to its traditional day, the last Saturday of June.”

A BBC Alba spokeswoman said:  “It is standard practice for there to be discussion with sporting organisations regarding the optimum schedule options for live sport.

“Flexibility is required – particularly this year – and it is not new to discuss such schedule options for shinty.”

‘Step too far for the game’

Broadcaster Hugh Dan MacLennan, speaking in a personal capacity, said: “This turn of events seems to have taken the Camanachd Association wholly by surprise and has been completely unexpected.

“It’s not clear from the letter the association issued precisely why the broadcasters want this shift to Sunday for major matches, but it looks like they are choosing between shinty and football.”

He added: “Personally I think it is a step too far for the game and, for all that this year is wholly extraordinary as it marks the return to play, I do not believe the wider shinty community is ready to countenance major matches on the Sunday.

“This is the biggest decision shinty has had to make since going from winter to summer and if TV coverage is lost there are major consequences for the game in terms of sponsorship.

“My feeling, from what I am hearing, is that the wider game, never mind just the teams involved in the competitions, are not for the proposal and as far as I can see the ball, to coin a phrase, is now in the broadcasters’ court.”