This afternoon, in a local restaurant in the humble village where I reside, I saw the cover of a magazine (torn off of the rest of the magazine) devoted to cockfighting. On the pages I could see, farmers/trainers showed pictures of their farms and advertised their roosters for fighting. On the cover was a prize fight (partly listed in English) where two roosters were fighting over a 2,200,000 baht (a little over $70,000) prize. That’s certainly not big money for an American sporting competition, but it’s not chump change by any means.
The fact is, cockfighting has an official magazine in Thailand that appears pretty popular, popular enough to end up with a bunch of Cosmopolitan-like magazines for readers in small villages. I have not seen any cockfights around where I live, though there are plenty of roosters about and it is certainly possible that some of them are trained for that purpose. Nonetheless, even though animal fighting is widely considered barbaric in the West, despite the fact that it is popular in certain segments of the population, animal fighting is far more popular in Thailand.
I found this out when I went to Khun Yuam and happened to come across the “Farm Channel” while I was looking for sports to watch. Instead of watching football or soccer or basketball or cycling or MMA or any number of sports I enjoy watching, instead there was a television program with two water buffalo, their horns entangled, fighting what looked to be a bovine version of sumo wrestling to a loud and enthusiastic audience of thousands in a backcountry arena. I was shocked and appalled that watching animals fight each other was such a popular pastime. I’m not opposed to blood sport in general, I just don’t like seeing animals set to fight each other for the benefit of their owners, seeing as they themselves do not profit by it.
That to me is the real justice of the matter. Athletes in general, even very successful ones, tend to have short careers. To play sports is to put your body in danger for the love of the game and for a short-term profit. If you blow out your knee or get too many concussions or you lose your speed or your eye-hand coordination, the paycheck stops. It’s all very temporary. But if someone profits from their efforts, and they believe it is worth the early onset arthritis, then there is nothing objectionable about it necessarily. I’m not one to gamble on such pursuits myself, but as long as someone is getting rewarded both for their skill and the risks they take, I do not consider their actions immoral. By and large I love the thrill of competition.
But having animals fight each other for the profit of their owners and for others to gamble on is a different matter entirely. It strikes deeply at my sense of justice to see animals scarred and wounded in fights with each other just so that people can make money off of it, when they get nothing out of it at all–no love or care, just cruel treatment and abuse. There is something deeply offensive about that, and about a culture that glorifies such abuse as entertainment. Our pursuits and interests tell much about ourselves and our sense of justice, or lack thereof.