Belgium newspapers have revealed that six racing pigeons have been doped with drugs such as cocaine and painkillers. This stunning revelation was highlighted when the Belgian pigeon-racing federation sent samples from 20 birds to the National Horseracing Authority of Southern Africa.
In Belgium, pigeon racing is a highly lucrative sport and revolves around specially bred and trained pigeons released from a specific location and racing back to their home loft. Pigeon racing, a sport that rakes in millions in breeding and prize money, fetch high prizes, going up to $2.3 million.
Five of the Belgian birds tested by a South African drugs laboratory tested positive for traces of the drug Mobistix, a medicine used by humans as a pain-killer, to combat fever and which also prevents inflammation and cocaine was found in the blood of another bird. These revelations shocked the National Chairman of the Pigeon Fanciers Association Stefaan Van Bockstaele and the association’s Chairman of Sport Dirk Schreel. Since the samples sent to South Africa were anonymous, the Pigeon Fanciers Association will not be able to take action against the owners of any of the pigeons. It is rumored that pigeons named Ben Johnson, Marion Jones, and Lance Armstrong were under suspicion. A pigeon named Usain Bolt, regarded as the world's most expensive pigeon, was last year sold to a Chinese businessman for about $430,000.
Recently, China and Belgium were engaged in a trade spat the former impounded several Belgian racing pigeons bought by Chinese enthusiasts at a high price. The ambassador and foreign office of Belgium is presently negotiating with Chinese authorities to free the birds. It is insisted by Chinese authorities that the caged birds be sent back only after customs duty and value added tax is paid on them. In other words, import duties that are 10% of the value while value added tax is 13% are to be paid, meaning China was due around $101,541 for Bolt alone. Birds were declared at only nominal values, meaning China would be losing out massively on tax and import duties, Chinese authorities said. The Chinese government accepted a small amount as "symbolic payment" for the first batch of 400 pigeons but is now asking for a full payment for the remaining 1200.
The People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals last year published the results of a 15-month investigation into pigeon racing in the United States that it termed as a multimillion-dollar illegal gambling industry. It was concluded by PETA that more than 60 percent of pigeons who race in events as long as 600 miles were lost or die during an event due to bad weather conditions, electrical lines, predators, or exhaustion. It was also disclosed that pigeons that are not fast enough or deemed good for breeding are “culled” through suffocation, drowning, neck-breaking, gassing, or decapitation.
After these revelations, calls have been renewed to implement new anti-doping rules that the governing body of the sport hope to be in place before the start of the new pigeon racing season in 2014.