In much of the West, this is a controversial subject. Cockfighting is outlawed in most of the world and condemned as being barbaric, especially it seems in the UK, and animal rights advocates often get very angry about the whole concept. Animal rights people call it inhumane, but If you want to see true inhumane treatment of chickens, visit a Perdue chicken “farm” (factory) in Maryland. Now that’s inhumane. And they all end under infrared lights in fast food joints all over America. In Thailand, cockfighting is considered a noble sport, in Thai it is Gai Shon, and has been a part of the Thai culture for a few hundred years. It is a spectator sport that is absolutely legal in Thailand and other Asian countries, and many Westerners have serious misconceptions about it.
One of the big objections from animal rights people is that the animals have “no choice”. Two responses come from Thais involved in cockfighting: (1) it’s only a chicken, an animal we often raise just to slaughter, not an intelligent animal (e.g., bird brain, ask the birds under the heat lamp at KFC if they had a “choice”), and (2) some Thais say the birds are not forced to fight at all. They are free to walk away in the ring, the match is forfeited and that’ll be the end of it for that bird. While cockfighting is permitted in Thailand, there is no fight to the death; that’s illegal in Thailand. If a bird chooses not to fight, they are usually whisked away and will not be placed in the ring again. Cockfighting chickens are perhaps the best fed birds in the country, since good health of the fowl is necessary for good fighting. So even if they proved to be “chicken” in the ring, they are likely to be used for breeding new chicks and living the good life that would be the envy of any rooster.
It is big business. There are magazines on the newsstands devoted to the sport. It is a major activity in rural towns, especially in the Northeast of Thailand (the Isaan Region), the far South and in the North of Thailand. People of all levels of society are involved with it. Thailand’s richest business tycoon, billionaire Dhanin Chearavanont, owner of CP Foods, Thai 7-11 Franchises and telecommunications, is a devotee with his own farm breeding cockfighters located just south of Bangkok. “I never get bored of watching the elegant way they move and their beauty,” Dhanin said recently. Cockfighting matches are actually shown on Thai television, and over 200,000 Thai people watch live matches each weekend.
A quality fighting cock will typically cost a few thousand Baht or even a few hundred thousand Baht for the real champions.
Gambling is illegal in Thailand, but everyone is aware that it is still done, and especially at cockfighting matches. Rarely do you read about police raiding a cockfighting gambling venue, but it does happen. More than likely if you go to a cockfighting match you will see gambling quite in the open, with police in uniform present as spectators of the match. Often the betting is called “auctioning” off the birds. In the cockfighting magazines, the total wager pot is clearly written for major events. Betting at licensed cockpits start at 5000Baht (about USD $166). At local small pits, gambling is done with a lot less money, and you see people waving their hands with a few hundred Baht in it to wager on the fight as it progresses.
If there is suspected abuse of the birds in a cockfight, the Thai police may step in. A recent news report from Phuket tells of a police raid on a fight where the birds were thought to be abused and there was gambling. The Gamblers face jail time and fines. (Please note, typical Thai style, that only a total of 220Baht was recovered from the gambling — that’s about $7.33 USD).
In 1562, the capital city of Thailand (actually Siam back then), Ayutthaya, was taken over by Burmese after some bloody hostilities. The Crown Prince Naresuan who was seven years old was taken captive and sent off to Burma. During his captivity, he was educated by the Burmese court in martial arts, literature and military strategies. He also became a big fan of cockfighting, which was the sport of Kings in Burma. After 9 years, Naresuan was released back to Siam and introduced the sport to his country. Naresuan later became the King of Siam, and the sport spread across Siam.
Actually, cockfighting was very much a European sport long before being introduced in Thailand. Julius Caesar first introduced it to England when he conquered most of that country and the sport endured for several hundreds of years, until Queen Victoria banned it in 1845. During its heyday in England, the game became a national sport at one point and exclusive schools were required to teach students the points of cockfighting, such as breeding, walking, and conditioning of the gamecock. In the US, cockfighting is currently illegal in every state, with Louisiana being the last state to enact laws against it in 2008.
The first recorded cockfights were in Persia about 6000 years ago (quite a while back). The sport was also part of ancient China, India and was introduced into Europe at about 500 B.C. in Greece. The Romans picked it up and introduced the spectator event throughout their European empire.
Today, the one country that seems to have embraced cockfighting the most is the Philippines, where it is absolutely the most popular sport in the country — far more popular than football (or as Americans would correctly say, soccer).
The Cockfighting Museum and Learning Center in Chiang Mai
Not on everyone’s tourist schedule in Northern Thailand is this privately owned museum just north of the city of Chiang Mai. It is located in a small village about a fifteen minute drive to San Pi Seua on the Mae Ping River. Several fighting cocks are on hand and demonstration bouts are performed every day.
The focus of the Cockfighting Museum is to present the Thai history of the sport and how it fits into Thai culture. Visitors to the museum learn about the very different fighting techniques and tactics that are characterized by each breed of bird from Burma, Vietnam and Thailand. The museum is open daily 10.00 am- 5.30 pm, with an admission charge of 300Baht. From what we can discover, this is the only Cockfighting Museum in the World.