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As we approach the the first SHGA Highland Games of the season to stage running events all concerned will be hoping that 2018 will see an increase in competitors taking part in Open Sprint handicap events.

As most will be well aware, there has been a worrying trend of the noticable fall off in participation in sprints in recent years. We are never going to attract the numbers who competed in the halcyon days of the 70s and 80s but it would be good to see numbers taking part that make the event worthy of the prizes the various games put up. The sprint is generally the biggest prize on the athletics programme.

My own Games at Markinch in 2017, like most others, had it's lowest ever turn out of runners taking part. In the Open 90 metres handicap, 13 runners in total, I was looking back at a programme from the 70's and we had 14 heats! For nearly all games nowadays it's a similar scenario. These are the numbers that took part in some of the Open Sprint events I attended last year, Cupar[9 runners], Ceres [11],Thornton[10],Alva[9], these are just examples but nearly all Games were the same with numbers down.

It's not just Highland Games, all pro events are suffering a similar effect, this years New Years Sprint had it's lowest participation of competitors as did the biggest Borders Games sprint at Jedburgh last summer.

There is no easy answer, mainstream sprinting is also suffering, Scotland has had no sprinter of the quality and standard required to compete in 100m or 200m events at Commonwealth Games for the past two decades male or female.

On a similar topic on another website former sprinter and long-time supporter of pro running Scott Brodie came up with one or two interesting analogies.

''Something I do agree with you on is that it seems a ridiculous situation that sprint times have not improved in the last 40 years, and that there has been a lack of international standard sprinters since the turn of the century. The standard in the “pro” events has probably regressed even more. Perhaps there is common ground here. The question is why has this happened ?

''There is no doubt that the numbers competing in “pro” running has declined sharply in the last 15/20/25 years (even more so when compared with the 1970s and 80s). With declining numbers has come declining standards.

''I simply believe it is due to changing sociological or societal reasons. Historically, “pedestrianism” came into existence due to substantial gambling and substantial prize money. In the post war years it attracted large crowds in the same way as you see on old footage of football matches from that period. It also attracted many bookmakers, in the days where betting shops were illegal and consequently large schools of runners who would bet on their “man”. This was still the case in the 1970s when I started. Many of the schools were also sponsored by bookmakers (equipment, food, travelling expenses). However within about 10 to 15 years the bookmakers connection was dwindling. Consequently the number of people gambling started to dwindle also. Perhaps it had something to do with the reducing number of independent bookies as the large firms took over that industry. That has continued to the present day until there are now only a few diehard bookies left.

''In tandem with this, the prize money simply has failed to keep up with the times. Some of the prizes today are the same as they were 40 years ago. But when I started then, some of that era’s old timers were complaining that the prize money was not keeping up THEN, citing that in the 1950s when they won a race they could go out and buy a new car or put down a deposit for a house. It seems that as society has gradually become more affluent, then the interest in gaining money from the Games has gradually vastly reduced.

''Coming from a generation of sprinters who took winning money seriously (we would really be battling it out for £20 last prize), I find today’s generation quite baffling in that respect. Although in real terms the value of the prize money has declined, I would still regard a 1st prize of £3000, for a summer sprint, quite a healthy reward for something I love doing anyway. However, a sprint with £300 1st prize attracts the same number of entries. It makes me wonder if today’s youngsters (from “pro” sprint areas) have too much money or are able to possess everything they need too easily or don’t value money so much as we did. The easy answer would be that they have gone to “amateur” athletics but I don’t think that is actually the case. ''

Published: 2018-05-23 14:02:56