Choose pigeons over horses, cars

By Yang Yung-nane 楊永年  / 

Fri, Apr 13, 2007 - Page 8

The Cabinet is reportedly ready to legalize horse and auto racing in June, and special areas and rules for these sports will be set up following international precedent. In addition to giving Taiwanese an opportunity to bet on such races, this move is expected to boost the tourism industry in southern Taiwan. It seems certain both horse racing and gambling are set to be legalized, maybe because of the influence of vested interests.

I am of the opinion, however, that the international gambling industry will not be compatible with Taiwanese culture, and that it therefore would be better to develop something more unique -- pigeon racing. There is no need to strive simply to copy the vulgar horse or auto racing of other countries.

I have two reasons for this proposal. First is the development of peripheral industries. Horse and car racing are certain to lead to the development of the horse breeding and custom cars industries, neither of which have been particularly fashionable in Taiwan.

If we are to develop horse and car racing, it will be necessary to develop peripheral industry, such as the manufacturing of troughs and saddles, stable services and other things required to breed and care for horses, as well as the maintenance and servicing of custom made race cars. Substantial investments will be required because not many people know very much about either sport.

More important, this kind capital investment is not something that the general public could handle, which could lead to market monopolies and exploitation of workers by capitalists. Furthermore, horses are not part of Taiwanese culture, and the car is even more explicitly a product of Western civilization. The investment and costs required to develop horse and car racing are far higher than what would be required to develop and promote pigeon racing.

The second reason for proposing pigeon racing has to do with cultural aptness. Pigeon racing has existed in Taiwan for a long time. It requires much less space than horse or car racing. In densely populated Taiwan, we should think twice before devoting large tracts of land to either sport. More importantly, pigeon racing is an activity with Taiwanese characteristics and part of popular culture. Its development could attract international tourists, thereby killing more than two birds with one stone.

Globalization does not mean that every country of the world must have horse and car racing, but rather that we should develop culturally colored tourism and gambling based on local characteristics. In particular, many people still question betting on cars and horses, and suddenly implementing such a decision when connected measures -- such as measures to prevent the possible destruction of positive social customs or social order in the nearby areas -- have not been completed could have negative results.

Pigeon racing, on the other hand, has a long history here, is well entrenched in popular culture and is therefore well positioned to become the main plank in the government's development of a gambling industry.

Winnings of tens of millions and even a hundred million NT dollars is reportedly common in pigeon betting, but since pigeon racing is an activity that has developed spontaneously among the public, it is fraught with problems.

For example, kidnappings of pigeons for ransom often make the local news. The pigeons themselves are exceptionally valuable and can make their owners wealthy. This is of course the reason why pigeon breeders are willing to pay astronomical sums to get them back. This kind of criminal behavior is not, however, the rule. Pigeon racing associations are currently in a state of "anarchy," lacking a governing agency and development policies. Despite that, they are developing rapidly and clearly have unique and attractive aspects.

In pigeon racing, which is an example of a free market, there are many examples where the market has gone wrong. In addition to pigeon theft and blackmail, fair competition and equal and open access to information are other problems that beset private pigeon racing.

To sum up, opening up horse and car racing through a policy decision does not necessarily imply using government funds. It may, however, imply other kinds of subsidies or tax reductions, or maybe create unfair competition as a result of mistaken government policies. Society may end up paying a high price in the form of social costs, and the issue must be given serious consideration.

Yang Yung-nane is a professor in National Cheng Kung University's political science department and its Graduate Institute of Political Economy.

Translated by Perry Svensson