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Ok, so what kind of sporting event would you expect 22 countries and 5918 entrants to travel all the way to Thailand to compete with locals just a matter of weeks before Christmas for a pot of 2.5 million baht and top prize of 1.2 million baht? And I might add one whose presentation is presided over by HRH Princess Uboltratana of Thailand
Maybe a canoe race down the Chao Phraya River!
Well if you guessed either of those to sort of sporting events you would be wrong.
This December saw the 25th anniversary of the FCI, a pigeon racing club based in Bangkok. The sport of racing pigeons goes back for centuries and has progressed from a poor man’s back garden pastime to multi million pounds sporting industry.
Many people scoff at to what, for some, is the passion a lifetime of endeavour and pleasure, some people can even make a living from it, dedicating their lives and time to their chosen sport.
During WW 1 and 2 carrier pigeons were used to carry important messages from behind enemy lines back to command centers. The FCI have a purpose built loft in the Montien area of BKK, from the outside the building could quite easily be mistaken for a small factory, this purpose built loft covers 4 levels with the entire top floor holding the Racing Pigeons, it has a capacity to house over 8000 birds.
So how does it work and how do you know the winners?
The pigeons come from many sources, some are bred here in Thailand by locals, some are imported from up to 22 countries that includes NL, GB, Belgium, China, Philippines, USA, And there are plenty of hybrids. The young birds are placed into the loft when they are not too strong on the wings and are in the learning process of finding where home is. The birds are released from the loft to have a fly around their area and get their directional senses. Once the birds trainers are happy that the birds are strong enough and able to “home” they start the training process and take ALL the birds about 10 km away from the loft, on release, not being too far from home the birds are soon back enjoying their lunch. This process is repeated with ever increasing distances until the birds are being taken hundreds of km away. Over the training months, some birds get lost, hit wire cables or are taken by birds of prey, these birds never make the big race.
The end of season grand race for the big 3 trophies are
1st the Kings cup, winner from Nongkai 520 km
2nd queens cup, winner from Kong Khen 400 km and then what some consider to be the most important, the Princess Cup, this is for Ace pigeon, this is the bird that has flown the fastest most consistently, the sign of a true champion.
With so many birds in the loft you may ask yourself how do they know who’s bird is whose and how do the recognize them? Well this is where we bring an age old sport into the 21st century; each bird has a micro tag in the ring on its leg, much like a bar code in your supermarket. As the item/bird crosses the bar scanner it’s registered, simple as that.
A few facts from the race
The Queens cup was won by a Belgium bird that flew at approximately 1600 meters per minute; it came home with a flock of 5 birds but crossed the finishing line a split second from its rivals. The Kings cup was won by Permsak with a Thai bird, again this bird came back in a flock of 3 and crossed the line first, flying at approximately 1380 meters per minute, not bad when you consider it was over 520 km and they fly around the mountains between Nong Khai and Bangkok, this bird was the weekends big winner, 1.2 million baht in prize money and the next day the bird was auctioned for an incredible 3.5 million baht, giving its proud owner a whopping 4.7 million baht, not bad for a weekends sporting fun eh! Over the 4 days the FCI in conjunction with the Montien riverside hotel put on a great festival including a slap up meal on a Chao Phraya river boat with full entertainment for approximately 800 guests, an outdoor dinner dance and a farewell party in the grand ballroom, pigeon racing has come a long way since men in cloth caps and hobnail boots kept pigeons “in the back yard”
Written by – our roving reporter