Belgian police raid 'doping' pigeon fanciers

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The Independent Online

Drugs are common in athlet- ics and rife among weight- lifters. Now pigeon fanciers in Belgium have fallen foul of rules against doping in sport.

Drugs are common in athlet- ics and rife among weight- lifters. Now pigeon fanciers in Belgium have fallen foul of rules against doping in sport.

Police raided more than 80 houses across the country this week over claims that birds were being given drugs to make them fly faster.

Belgium's 60,000 pigeon fanciers already face tough anti-doping rules, allowing for the chemical examination of the birds' droppings with the threat of three years' suspension for owners found to have offended.

But these raids, which led to the confiscation of large quantities of products banned for pigeons without prescription, are the most far-reaching yet undertaken by the Belgian authorities.

The operation began near Kortrijk, close to the French border, when a distributor of pigeon food and other products was questioned after a tip-off that illegal substances had been imported from Germany.

The supplies are thought to include cortisone and antibiotics. Police also discovered the names and addresses of recipients on the suppliers' database.

Pigeon fancying has been a feature of Belgian life since the 19th century. It remains popular and potentially lucrative, with the most successful birds sometimes fetching as much as 25,000 euros (£15,000). With thousands wagered on the results of the half dozen biggest races, pigeon fancying is now big business, a fact that has almost certainly stoked the bout of doping.

Eddy Zandenbergh, the spokesman for the World Pigeon Centre, which promotes the sport, said: "Belgium was the first country to take action against doping of pigeons. But, like other sports where there is money involved, people will try to make a profit from using banned substances."

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