Pigeon Racing: A Primer

I really struggled to make this coherent but I have given up. Let me tell you about competitive pigeon racing.

First thing to know: it's a big deal. Last year a pigeon was sold for $1.9 million. In Taiwan there are hundreds of thousands of pigeon racers and the annual prize pool is in the tens of millions.

Second: it has history. The proper name for someone who breeds and races pigeons is a 'fancier', and the sport is thought to date back some 1800 years. There were seven pigeon racing events in the 1900 Olympic Games, although they were not considered 'official' by the IOC. Here in the UK we have five independent pigeon racing organisations, including the Royal Pigeon Racing Association. Its President is "enthusiastic pigeon fancier" Queen Elizabeth II.

Third, it is pretty screwy, even by sporting standards. It's got the classic hallmarks:

  • Intermittent doping scandals, with cases of pigeon blood showing traces of paracetamol and caffeine. In 2001 the Belgian police raided 80 homes for illegal performance-enhancing drugs, for pigeons.
  • Pigeons semi-regularly not showing up at the end because they either hit power lines or were eaten by falcons.
  • Fanciers then trying to illegaly hunt falcons.
  • A probably abusive method of training called 'widowhood' where pigeons are only allowed to see their mate and children after training or racing.

As of 2004 it is banned in the US; I am not sure why. In Canada, however, you will find the Canadian Pigeon International magazine.

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