Pigeon racing fans from all over the world flock to Fugare fair

A prize-winning pigeon can fetch well over a million dollars, and in the heady world of pigeon racing, Belgian birds are the most coveted. At Fugare, an international pigeon-racing fair in Kortrijk, enthusiasts can find everything from racing birds to food supplements and security systems.

This weekend, between eight and ten thousand visitors descended on the Kortrijk Xpo exhibition hall for the annual high mass of pigeon racing. While Belgium is the mecca of the centuries-old sport, its popularity has spread far beyond the country's borders. Fugare brings together Belgian veterans and fanciers from France, Sweden and China to discover the latest novelties.

Now in its 13th edition, Fugare attracts visitors from more than 15 countries. "Chinese visitors are easy to spot because they are often live-streaming the whole fair," said exhibition manager Nathanaëlle Verdruye. The fair draws an international audience because the exhibitors also come from all over the world, she said. At Fugare you can register for races in Thailand or buy transport baskets from Poland.

Million dollar pigeons

Prices for racing pigeons have reached unprecedented heights in recent years. In 2020, the Belgian pigeon New Kim was sold for a record 1.9 million dollars to Xing Wei, a Chinese property tycoon. New Kim was paired with Armando, the world's second most expensive pigeon, in an attempt to breed top champions.

"These terribly high sums are not the essence of pigeon racing"

Team Verschoot, the breeding company that sold Armando for 1.4 million dollars in 2019, has some of the pigeon's grandchildren on display at Fugare. For Dieter Verschoot, Armando was a real high point. "We always had the ambition to compete at the top, but in the end it just befalls you," he said. Since selling the pigeon, he has gone back to visit the bird several times.

For some fans of the sport, the huge sums of money are not necessarily a positive development. "All that glitters is not gold," said Jef Cuypers, spokesman for the Royal Belgian Pigeon Federation (KBDB). "These terribly high sums are not the essence of pigeon racing."

A thousand finish lines

At the KBDB stand, fanciers queue up to register their pigeons so that they can take part in Belgian competitions. Pigeon racing is a sport with a thousand finish lines. Before a race, the birds are brought to the same start and released to find their way home. The pigeon that flies the fastest on average wins the prize.

Some stands sell high-tech security systems for pigeon lofts, as thefts of the precious birds are on the rise

The advent of big money has changed the sport. "It has led to the creation of more and more mega lofts, which of course makes it harder for the small fancier to compete," said. Cuypers. The KBDB is also trying to combat the sport's old-fashioned reputation by awarding prizes to young fanciers at the fair. Pigeon fanciers as young as 15 are finding their way into the game.

Those who want to take up the sport will find everything they need at Fugare. Some stands sell high-tech security systems for pigeon lofts, as thefts of the precious birds are on the rise. Those with more than 800 euros to spend can buy a high-tech dust mask at the fair to protect themselves from pigeon breeder's lung, a type of lung inflammation caused by exposure to feathers and bird droppings.


#FlandersNewsService | © Photo handout Fugare / Xpo Group

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