A LITTLE BIT OF RESPECT
Just when I was wondering what to write next, something interesting enough to captivate the readers, Karel knocked at my door. Karel is one of the persons responsible for releases, and he was showing the strain of it. He really looked upset. "Come in, Karel," I said. Carefully he stepped around me, but at a dark corner, he stopped abruptly. "Could you please put the light on," he begged. I did as he asked and steered him into the living room. Anxiously he looked round the room. "Nothing behind the curtains?" I opened the curtains for him, there was nothing there. Only then he sat down, reassured. "Do you want a beer?" I asked him. He shook his head, which surprised me greatly. Karel who didn"t want a beer? That wasn"t like him. "Problems?" I asked. "Please don"t ask, nothing but problems." My wife came into the room, but when she extended her hand, Karel backed fearfully against the wall.
Something had to be seriously wrong here. We knew Karel as a cheerful character, but now he was radiating misery. "What"s the matter with you? I asked him. And he explained: "It all started three years ago. I was asked to take on the responsibility for the releases. I had a knack to charts on the Internet, and therefore I was seen as the right person to decide about the releases. I accepted. Every weekend during the season I got up at 5.00 am. Studied the weather and reported when the pigeons could be released.
For two years, everything went well. Nobody knew me or the function that I had, and nobody knew the effort I had to make to let them race with their pigeons without problems. But this year it started to go wrong, and it began at the race from Dourdan. The flight path looked good. There was a band of bad weather over the Netherlands, but this was supposed to shift to the north. However, against all predictions, the bad weather shifted to the south, and it became a smash. And then there was the race from Arras. The fog in the flight path was supposed to lift quickly, so I gave the advice to release the pigeons. But the fog stayed firmly in place, and again many birds got lost.
"From then on I became fair game. Fanciers avoided me or called me a murderer. I got death threats, and letters that said that they would come for me. Some fanciers even called the RSPCA, and I was branded a tormentor of animals, who deliberately sent pigeons to their death. Then one day, my son came home, completely soaked. "Well, this was the last time that I listened to you," he complained. He wanted to go cycling. I had told him that it would stay dry, because that was what the weather forecast said, but later it started raining hard." Despite all the modern technology, we can"t even predict the local weather. And Karel was expected to predict the weather over hundreds of kilometres.
One of these critics had taken his youngsters away himself, and one third of them was lost. Another critic was the only person who lost a lot of youngsters on a training flight. Such fanciers don"t even have a right to criticise. I was in the release station of Quievrain three times. And what I saw in (some!) baskets was heart rending. I don"t know much about pigeons, but I can see if they are in good health. With the pigeons in those baskets, I would go to a vet instead of entering them in a race. Basketing unhealthy pigeons, and then blaming the releasers when these are lost? Shameful!
Of course, the people who are responsible for the releases do make mistakes. But who doesn"t? You can find bunglers, who are not competent in the job they do, in all levels of society. And these bad apples have to be removed. Releasers also. But most of them are competent, they do their best and they deserve our respect. But the point is that they are expected to know more about the weather than the professional weather forecasters do. And these are so often wrong.
A fascinating spectacle, but sometimes very difficult to decide what to do.
For that matter, what happened once in Holland was really sad. The WOWD (a team of "scientists", that assists the NPO) gave the advice not to race with youngsters, because of expected very hot weather, and the fact that young pigeons are not yet able to find drinking water in the truck. However, some Federations decided to ignore the warning. Were they right?
Was the NPO right? It"s a fact that pigeons, also (healthy!) youngsters, can cope very well with warm weather. Provided that there is not too much of a head wind. In countries where most races are in tropical temperatures they know this. To give water in the basket to drink, that is what matters.
The problem with warm weather is therefore not the flight home, but the trip to the release station in the baskets!
Many fanciers should have a bit more respect for the people that provide them with the conditions for a good race. There are for instance the basketers, the cleaners, the people who spend hours connecting chips and who are blamed when something goes wrong ... and there are the releasers. The NPO and the KBDB are blamed for lots of things, and sometimes they are completely blackened by the media. Often by people, who are not very competent themselves. But have the KBDB and the NPO not always been blamed? I have never known any different.
In other sports, opponents embrace each other after the opponent has won. How very different it is in our sport. In 2006, I raced from Noyon only in Belgium. Straight away, those babies won the general championship in a large Federation. The following year they won the general championship yearlings. The seasons of 2008 and 2009 were also very successful. With as cherry on the cake the race from Dourdan in bad weather with 20 out of 20. I had ONE race ONLY that was not good.
You will not believe how may people I made happy with that.
You don"t want to know, what sorts of insults some fanciers, who are achieving well, have to put up with. They are even blamed for things that have nothing to do with the pigeon sport at all. And I know how they must feel. For decades I have (without exaggerating) won everything there was to win in the Netherlands. The gossip, the lies and the criticism in those years have caused me many a sleepless night. But that is all in the past now. Now I pity these critics, who seldom achieve anything at all themselves. In some parts of Holland, the pigeon sport is still flourishing. And it"s especially in these parts, that fanciers respect and help each other. I told Karel all this, but I"m afraid that we have lost him for the sport. Because in this sport, usually the other person gets the blame when things go wrong. Why don"t we give the releasers, those hard workers, these champions, a pat on the back once in a while? You have no idea, how much that would be appreciated by these people.