|Posted: 24/January/2006 at 1:12pm | IP Logged
Pigeon Racing in Thailand
(Telling It as It Is)
By: Old Hand
Pigeon racing, if we call this game a sport, came to Thailand some 60 years ago after the Japanese occupation during the Second World War. Some messenger pigeons used during the war were retired and reached the hands of a few fanciers, mostly Chinese descendants, who kept them as pets. Since then a tiny racing community had its beginning. Some years after, a person whom we may call father of the Thai pigeon racing sport, the late Mr. Prateep Payakaporn, imported the first lot of racing pigeons from England, notably from the loft of the Osman. These pigeons and their offspring were distributed to many Chinese fanciers who by then became more serious in racing even though in the primitive style. Many pigeons were also imported from a pet shop in Antwerp in the late 50s. Then in the early 60s, pigeons from a very famous Belgian fancier in that era by the name of Joseph Vandenbrucke were imported. This strain had strong influence in the make up the Thai racing pigeon breed for more than two decades. Mechanical clocks also came to the country around that time. After that, several thousands of sky thoroughbreds were imported from famous lofts around the world particularly from Belgium and Holland. Imports of live pigeons into the country were relatively easy during the past decades until the recent outbreak of avian flu in SE-Asia. This had made Thailand rich in gene pool for racing pigeons.
Members and Organizations:
Despite its relatively long history, the number of active racing fanciers has never peaked beyond a thousand or so, although some people might be tempted to inflate this figure a little bit for commercial reason. Approximately 70% of active fanciers reside in the capital city of Bangkok and the rest spread out in five major provinces, i.e., the eastern coastal towns of Cholburi and Rayong, Samutprakarn (adjacent to the east of Bangkok), Nakornprathom and Supanburi (50-60 km west of Bangkok). No official statistics is available because there is really no central body that manages the sport like the NPO in Holland, AU in the United States, and the KBDB in Belgium. Fanciers can participate in any race without having to be official members of any association or federation as long as they have their lofts registered and air distances measured. Therefore, the same names may appear in all the clubs tallies and the summation of these figures will be totally misleading let alone the fact that a large number of fanciers have already left the sport or passed away but their names are still in the books. Some association might have started its membership number from 1000 instead of 1 or made itself appears bigger than life by accumulating licenses of a few defunct associations with no member and manage them by the same group of people under the same roof.
There are four active associations registered in Bangkok including a new federation recently established by a group of most accomplished fanciers and businessmen with unblemished records. The new federation is met with immediate success and the sport is looking forward to a new level of transparency and good governance in pigeon club management. In the provinces pigeon fanciers race under a lose club arrangement and they can now join the new federation as institutional members and adopt the same rules and regulations. The names association and federation have the same legal status by Thai law even though the later implies a more encompassing scope of activities and authority by English translation. No association legally or officially represents Thailand in racing pigeon sport. Memberships are not sought after by the associations so that just a few individuals can have total control on management and thus the lack of good governance and transparency. Running a club or association is not an easy task either because, unlike in the United States, members here do not expect themselves to pay any membership fee or to help the club in any respect be it financial or man hour. Therefore all the clubs have to compete for entries form the same small group of fanciers. This may have forced some clubs to offer something they could not afford and had to come up with some imaginative thinking to get the money back.
Admittedly, most clubs are too much involved in promoting pools and no priority is given to upgrade the image of this sport or to entice new comers to join the hobby. Gone were the days when fanciers would look forward to the honor of winning just the trophies and friendly admirations from their peers like in Japan where the sport is still very honorable. This explains why this sport has not grown over the years (or in fact has been declining rapidly). Like in many other countries, keeping pigeons have become too expensive especially in a capital city where real estates are precious and people have alternatives to spend their spare times. Most seriously, professional fanciers and big lofts have been migrating to the west side of the city to take geographical advantages and small lofts are forced to quit.
Races are organized almost all year round but the major ones are from the north route during the period from mid September to January. Pigeons fly with cool northeasterly tail wind from 140 km up to 750 km distance and the full program contains 15-16 races.
Races from the north-east direction cover the period from March until May (10+/-races) and this time against the wind and severe heat. Fanciers in the northeast corner now have the advantage. The last leg is along the costal line from the south in the monsoon season from June-early August. As the air distance is measured directly from the race points, pigeons are assumed to cut across the gulf straight to Bangkok. In reality they cannot and they have to fly along the coast line until they are close enough to the capital and then break over the water for a short distance homeward. Again, the west side has the advantage because the coastal line is west of Bangkok. The situation could be improved if racing software with a break point feature is used as practised in South Africa.
Average total entry in a good race is around 1500-2000 pigeons while there could be more than 2500 birds entered for some early races and only around 500-600 birds for the last two long distance stations. In some clubs, the number can be inflated by a few hundreds if the organizers so wish. Total number of clocks set in a race is around 120 which means less than 120 fanciers participate in a race because some big lofts employ more than one clock each. Popular models are the mechanical Benzing and Junior; the later is becoming less popular because it needs factory services after a period of time. Benzing Express is the only e-clock system that has been used for a number of years. Despite the small number of participants in a race the pool amount can be quite large if included free entries from the organizers.
Trophies and negligible amount of money prizes are given to the first three prize winners in each race. Therefore, fanciers try their lucks in pools and derby rings where clubs get a cut from total stake. Some clubs may offer guaranteed total purses but at the same time fanciers may have to race against unlimited number of the organizers birds most of which pay nothing for the derby rings. A great number of the King, Queen, and Princess cups are given out by associations every year, a number far greater than they are authorized to do.
One-loft races have been staged in Thailand for many years by several parties and most have been very lucrative undertakings since no import tax was paid for pigeons hand-carried into the country by so-called birds-runners. Some races could be just a private business ventures using the association credentials and names of innocent public figures to establish creditability while a few were organized by groups of people genuinely wish to promote the country and sport. Like in some countries where big money prizes are promised, participants must be aware that the organizers have better odds because they can enter unlimited number of their own pigeons. Because of the very warm and humid condition foreign pigeons which pay higher entry fees, have less chance to win especially in long distance race unless they are locally raised as youngsters (better as a third generation). Likewise, buyers of foreign pigeons after the races must see to it that the birds were bred from their country of origin, not locally bred birds that wear imported foreign rings.