Big prize money “for the birds”

Big prize money “for the birds”

The next time you walk into a pet shop, perhaps be a bit selective as to which bird you choose to buy…

There are not still many people who don’t fully understand the enormity of pigeon racing in South Africa; nor do they know that this country offers the biggest pigeon race in the world with a total of approximately $1, 3 million in prize money. Pigeon fanciers from all over the world flock to South Africa in their droves, where almost 4 500 competitors from 25 different countries train and race their best birds against one another for the coveted prize money.

The history of the South African Million Dollar

It was back in 1995 that the initial talks of putting together a high profile international pigeon race began, but because there were no sports promoters with the correct experience and knowledge of pigeon racing, the concept was off to a rocky start. Sun City agreed to host the race and there were Swiss venture capitalists who’d been rounded up by the PGA’s Brett Chalmers – it was just the local Gauteng Racing Pigeon Combine and the South African Homing Union who needed to be brought on board.

Old security premises at Sun City were converted into pigeon lofts, which were then used to house birds from all corners of the globe. In putting the world’s richest pigeon race together, new tracking and timing technology was developed, which benefited the sport as a whole when electronic ring tags were deployed with the pigeons. A pigeon training team was put together and the stage was set for international fanciers to descend on South Africa.

How the race works

Pigeon fanciers from around the world bring their racing pigeons to specially-made lofts, where they are trained from only a few weeks old, to recognise the pigeon lofts as home. As they get older, they fly further and further away from the lofts and are trained to return. There are special training days allocated before the actual race, but on the race day, the birds are taken to a location between 500 and 600 km away from the lofts and set loose. The pigeons to make it home in the quickest time are the winners. They wear special tracking technology that allows race technicians to determine the fastest metre per minute time, and whichever racing bird achieves that time makes his or her handler or fancier a very rich person.

The 2013 Million Dollar

The South African Million Dollar is now owned by Air Sport Internationale, and this year’s race was held at Emperor’s Palace – the impressive hotel in Johannesburg South Africa, that’s closest to the country’s busiest airport. Pigeon fanciers were chasing prize money that included a $125 000 first place prize, $80 000 second prize, $60 000 third prize, as well as many more cash prizes. There were also a whole host of run-up competition cash prizes, motor vehicles, as well as gold pendants and other prizes.