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Pet Belge? Samples from birds test positive for painkillers and cocaine

Senior figures at a sports governing body in Belgium are said to be in shock after competitors tested positive for drugs including cocaine and painkillers, and are planning to introduce new anti-doping rules ahead of the 2014 season – and it’s pigeons, not cyclists, that are involved in the scandal.

Six samples of pigeon droppings out of 26 tested by a laboratory in South Africa returned positive results, according to Het Laatste Nieuws, five of them for the human drug Mobistix, which is used as a painkiller and to reduce fever and inflammation. A sample from a sixth bird tested positive for cocaine.

The samples had originally been tested in Belgium with no positive results returned, but were then sent for re-testing at a laboratory operated by the National Horseracing Authority of Southern Africa. Since the samples were submitted anonymously, no action can be taken against the birds’ owners.

Stefaan Van Bockstaele, chairman of Belgium’s pigeon fanciers’ association and its chairman of sport, Dirk Schreel, are reportedly in shock at the news and are considering asking the same laboratory in South Africa to analyse samples in future. The association is due to bring in new anti-doping rules next year.

At its highest levels, pigeon racing can be a lucrative sport, with a Belgian bird named after Olympic champion Usain Bolt selling to a businessman in China for €310,000 earlier this year.

After the lifting of a ban on pigeon racing in China – previously, it was viewed as a ‘bourgeois decadence’ according to the Guardian – the sport has been growing phenomenally in the country, with hundreds of thousands of followers and a forthcoming race in Beijing promising prize money equivalent to £2.3 million.

The bird is to be used for breeding rather than racing – if released, he would attempt to fly back to his home loft in Belgium.

Bolt was among 1,600 pigeons sold to Chinese fanciers at an auction in Belgium in May, although the birds were seized by customs officials in China amid claims that invoices had been falsified to avoid customs duty.

Big money, of course, attracts crime, and birds are a target for thieves both in the UK and abroad. As well as interference from rival fanciers, birds also face threats while racing or training from natural predators, power lines and the elements.

There are an estimated 40,000 pigeon fanciers in the UK. An investigation into cross-Channel racing by People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals claimed that in one race, 90 per cent of birds taking part in such races were lost. It is calling for such events, which it says also attract unlicensed betting, to be banned.

Born in Scotland, Simon moved to London aged seven and now lives in the Oxfordshire Cotswolds with his miniature schnauzer, Elodie. He fell in love with cycling one Saturday morning in 1994 while living in Italy when Milan-San Remo went past his front door. A daily cycle commuter in London back before riding to work started to boom, he's been news editor at road.cc since 2009. Handily for work, he speaks French and Italian. He doesn't get to ride his Colnago as often as he'd like, and freely admits he's much more adept at cooking than fettling with bikes.

12 comments

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jasecd [388 posts] 2 years ago
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What does this have to do with cycling?

It must mean that our sport is actually cleaning up if you have to scrape the bottom of the barrel like this for a doping story!

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Colin Peyresourde [1690 posts] 2 years ago
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Having read 'Breaking the Chain', and seeing this, I'm not sure whether Belgium shouldn't be called 'Little Columbia' for its seeming reliance on narcotics to function and compete.

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ThatBritishBloke [20 posts] 2 years ago
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If that's a Belgian pigeon in that image then it's surely on something!!!

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nowasps [412 posts] 2 years ago
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jasecd wrote:

What does this have to do with cycling?

It must mean that our sport is actually cleaning up if you have to scrape the bottom of the barrel like this for a doping story!

Who cares? Best pigeons-on-drugs story from this website this week. This is exactly the sort of stuff I come here for.

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BigDummy [314 posts] 2 years ago
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Imagine getting stuck talking to a coked-up racing pigeon who had just been sold to a Chinese billionaire. Terrifyingly awful.

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southseabythesea [148 posts] 2 years ago
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Now pigeons doing blood bags in seedy hotels, I'd pay money to see that!

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Northernbike [229 posts] 2 years ago
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I hope this means we're not in for a flood of self-vindicatory books by retired pigeons assuring us that even though they were up to their necks in doping they were really against it all the time and the reason they waited so long to go public is absolutely not because they were holding out for a book deal

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southseabythesea [148 posts] 2 years ago
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'It's all about the Wings!'

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Edgeley [323 posts] 2 years ago
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It probably is where Armstrong got the idea for the armbands from.

Flystrong.

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pwake [374 posts] 2 years ago
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jasecd wrote:

What does this have to do with cycling?

It must mean that our sport is actually cleaning up if you have to scrape the bottom of the barrel like this for a doping story!

Could be relevant; Belgian rider Adrie Van Der Poel once tested positive and claimed it was due to eating pigeon pie that a pigeon fancier had made for him. This could definitely resurrect that excuse!

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PhilRuss [372 posts] 2 years ago
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Northernbike wrote:

I hope this means we're not in for a flood of self-vindicatory books by retired pigeons assuring us that even though they were up to their necks in doping they were really against it all the time and the reason they waited so long to go public is absolutely not because they were holding out for a book deal

[[[[ Yes! To be published by Penguin.
P.R.

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griggers [21 posts] 2 years ago
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Best coup, sorry 'coo' I've read for a while