In "my" Fed again 200 fanciers quit the sport in 2009.
Once we were about 8,000, now barely 2,000.
Elsewhere, the decline is less but the overall picture of international pigeon sport gives little cause for mirth.
- Belgium has 35,694 members now. That was 102,324 in 1981 and 237,965 in 1951.
From 237,000 down to 35,000?
What went wrong and why a man asks himself.
- In the Netherlands are still 25,430 fanciers (the Barcelona stadium for one-third filled), there were once 56,000.
And the average age of fanciers is not promising either. Both in the Netherlands and Belgium, the number of fanciers under the age of 40 is under 4,000.
- Germany would have 51,400 fans, France 14.030.
- Also in England, Japan, America and even in Taiwan the sport goes down..
The sport still thrives in Poland and Romania.
In Portugal, the sport flourished until 2000 but since then the number of fanciers fell from 30,000 to 15,000. Especially in 2009 many stopped 'due to the crisis' they claim.
It is fun to eat fish in the clubhouse and talk pigeons. Right Chairman Rui
Next to him Pedro Lopes
The exception is Algarve.
This part of Portugal has a beautiful scenery, nice resorts, almost guaranteed good weather, life is cheap ... and pigeon sport is still popular.
There were about 1,000 fanciers and there still are 1,000. The future looks good given the average age, 25 years younger than I estimate in Belgium.
There are 25 clubs, but what is special and absolutely unique are the so-called community-lofts.
Why does the sport in the Algarve still flourish?
Probably it has to do with the following things:
- They race in series (sprint, middle distance and long distance) and have only one flight per week. You should not underestimate how much less pressure that gives to a person or family life.
- Selling birds is not such an issue as in Holland and Belgium where we find more and more mob fliers.They hope for early birds to find their names in the media and they know no foreigner notices the number of birds they race.
- In Belgium people with a function are mostly well paid, in Portugal they do not want to be paid for a hobby.
With President Rui and Pedro Lopez I made a tour which was surprising.
Clubhouse under construction. It costs 300,000 euro.
First we visited three champions.
- Mr Vargues has been a fancier for barely 5 years, he bought expensive pigeons and was 2009 National Champion Middle Distance. He mainly races descendants of birds from Lionel Debusschere and 2 daughters of the Cannibal of van Dijck.
- Doctor Madeira, the only one who spoke English fluently, lives in the city but still has a huge garden behind his house. He could sell it for good money but prefers pigeon lofts in his yard. He started with Fabry', later he got birds from Vereecke, Van Hove Uytterhoeven, Bolle, Florizoone and Gyselbrecht.
Especially the van Hove Uytterhoeven birds made a tremendous impression. The ophthalmologist with a great sense of humor plays in Belgium with Gyselbrecht which explains why he knows so much about the sport in Belgium. .
- Germano and Ribeiros are champions who do well with Debusschere pigeons and Colsons.
Everyone plays double widowhood and hens dominate, especially on the long distance.
You do not believe this is a clubhouse!
So they race Belgian pigeons, in contrast to England. .
That is a matter of communication Dr. Madeira told me.
In Portugal French is the second language, so the first birds were imported from French-speaking Belgians, then came Flemish pigeons.
Many Dutch people speak English and that explains why there are many Dutch pigeons in England.
Truly impressive are the club houses, mostly modern, sometimes in the centre of a town.
The clubs have their own small cars to transport birds and pigeons that have been basket are brought to a central point where they are loaded on large trucks that bring them to the release station.
Under the leadership of President Rui now a gigantic clubhouse is built in Loule, cost 300,000 euros!
"How can they do it?" I wondered.
Outsiders can clearly see that this will be a location for pigeons.
What impressed me most of all were the "community lofts'.
Throughout the country side you see a number of pens of all shapes and sizes close together.
Those are community lofts.
There are 14 of them with about 15 lofts each.
The land is made available by the city for people who love to play with pigeons but can not because they have no space for a loft.
In the Netherlands, Belgium and especially Germany, many municipalities think differently. They forbid you to keep pigeons, in Algarve however pigeon sport is encouraged by the authorities.
The pride of the Algarve is the complex "Aldeira Columbofila Vila Real de St Antonio'.
There are 22 of such pens close to each other.
The location is close to the motorway in a plain in a forest. There are 22 lofts, all the same type and water and electricity is provided.
It was evening when I was there. Fanciers were chatting, smoking and enjoying.
And you do not believe it, the lofts (5,000 euros each) were paid by the municipality and made available to people who do not have room to have pigeons.
Up to 600 birds are raced and one can guess what happens when the first bird arrives. Everyone blows a whistle as everyone hopes it's his pigeon.
Aerial view of community lofts.
What all the pens have in common is that the bottom is open, it is a sort of grid that allow oxygen to get in which is a must in warm weather.
Some are packed with birds but still their condition was breathtaking.
That must be the (dry) climate.
Adeno (the young bird disease) is hardly a problem over there.
One can race up to 30 pigeons (no more) for middle distance and 15 for long distance.
The fact that fanciers in Holland and Belgium can race hundreds of birds if they want to no one over there can understand.
Honestly speaking I can't either. Many world famous names would not be world famous if they would race 20 birds only.