Levelling the playing field for pigeon racing

It is often claimed that the wealthier fanciers are dominating pigeon racing. But having a lot of money doesn’t necessarily make you a winner, says Thomas Smit.

Like so much else in South Africa, the sport of racing pigeons has been hit hard by rising costs. As a result, clubs and umbrella organisations are seeking ways to narrow the gap between ‘ordinary fanciers’ and those from higher income groups. It’s a controversial issue. The wealthier fanciers want to test the potential of their often extremely expensive pigeons to the full without having any restrictions placed on them. And no one wants to win a race only because their competitors were somehow hobbled.

On the flip side, while we all know that not all pigeon races are won by financially privileged entrants, the fact is that many of them are! 

But is money, or a lack of it, really the main issue?

Pigeon racing is, by its very nature, expensive. So indeed are most sports. And those people who get involved in pigeon racing know from the outset that they will have to spend a fair amount to get the most out of it. But that’s not all. Very little can be achieved in any sport without commitment or sacrifice. If you have a true passion for pigeon racing, then your willingness to put in all that extra time and effort will put you ahead of competitors who do not share the same dedication and tenacity.

A question of quality
This brings us to the matter of the ‘mob’ versus the ‘small team’. In the old days, a mob flyer was a person who kept hundreds of pigeons, and would enter as many birds as he could in any one race, believing the more pigeons he had in the running, the greater his chances of winning. Small team fanciers kept fewer pigeons and chose their teams more ‘scientifically’.

Things have changed. These days, good pigeons cost more and those who are truly passionate about the sport have had to go for quality rather than quantity. Furthermore, wealthier fanciers who push up prices while bidding for quality birds are not doing so because they’re bullies, but because they are simply ambitious – just like any other pigeon lover.

Getting personal
Competition can also bring out the worst in people. While researching this article, I realised that many attempts to ‘level the playing field’ have little to do with money. Instead, wealthy fanciers seek to place restrictions on other wealthy fanciers who are their main rivals.

The fanciers in real need of assistance are caught in the crossfire and don’t realise they are being manipulated to cast a vote for arrogant leaders who don’t care about them and who are using them to nail another fancier simply because, wealthy or not, they are better at the pigeon game!

Restructuring awards
The playing field can never be truly levelled. Instead, we should look at, say, distributing prize money more widely.
Currently, things are top heavy, with the winnings going to the first three to five positions, while the smaller players, who have fed the kitty, go home with nothing for a well-deserved 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th or 10th position.

“But surely,” I hear you say, “wealthier fanciers can afford to look after their pigeons better with all sortsof fancy supplements? And lofts like five-star hotels, such as the one pictured on this page?”

You would be surprised! But we’ll discuss this aspect of the debate next time.