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Bobby Leslie
"The ba is about the size of a football"
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Wednesday, 9 May, 2001, 10:22 GMT 11:22 UK
Ba' game legal threat fears
Ba' game underway
The Uppies and the Doonies battle it out
There have been calls for Orkney Council to distance itself from an ancient game over fears of legal action.

The Kirkwall Ba' game has been played on the streets of the town for hundreds of years.

Some councillors fear that injured players may sue the authority if it continues to give it support.

Orkney Islands Council currently pays for repairs to property, including broken windows and doors, damaged during the raucous game

Ba' is a very physical sport and people do get hurt, there have been numerous people with broken bones and black eyes

Council spokesman David Flannigan
The game involves two teams - the Uppies and the Doonies - battling it out to get hold of a leather ball and running through the town.

It is first thought to have been played by Viking invaders who threw the severed heads of their enemies around.

The modern version currently receives support from the council which pays for the repairs.

However, councillors on the finance and general purposes committee have recommended that the council should have nothing to do with it.

The full council referred the matter back to the committee to carry out further discussions involving the Ba' game organisers.

Council spokesman David Flannigan said: "We are involved in ex-gratia payments to pay for damage caused during the game.

Cameras on Ba' game
It usually attracts huge interest
"But there are growing fears that we could be subject to implied liability if someone gets hurt and decides to sue us.

"Ba' is a very physical sport and people do get hurt. There have been numerous people with broken bones and black eyes.

"I saw a whole wall come down one year, that is how much people get into the game and we have paid anything from a few hundred to a few thousand pounds in repairs.

"Although we are sure the residents who take part would not try to sue us, we have to be careful.

"You just have to look at the US to see how easy it is for people to find a way to sue an organisation for a lot of money where the issue of liability is up for debate."

Locals say that without the financial backing from the council the game would stop because players would be unable to pay for the damages.

Social occasion

Charles Tait, who has covered the last 49 games, said that the game - which involves an unlimited number of players - can be a great spectacle.

He said: "It may appear chaotic, but there are actually a lot of tactics involved.

"The Doonies have to carry the ball to the harbour, while the Uppies have to take it to a wall at the top of the town.

"Then there is usually a fight amongst the winners to see who gets to keep the ball.

"After that there is usually a big celebration. It is a great social occasion."

The game is played on Christmas Day and New Year's Day starting at 1300 GMT.

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