A cockfight is a blood sport between two roosters (cocks), held in a ring called a cockpit. Cockfighting is now illegal throughout most the United States, Brazil and in most of Europe.
The combatants, aptly referred to as gamecocks, are specially bred birds, conditioned for increased stamina and strength. The comb and wattle are cut off in order to meet show standards of the American Gamefowl Society and the Old English Game Club and to prevent freezing in colder climates. Cocks possess congenital aggression toward all males of the same species. Cocks are given the best of care until near the age of two years old. They are conditioned, much like professional athletes prior to events or shows. Wagers are often made on the outcome of the match. While not all fights are to the death, the cocks do endure physical trauma that may result in death. Cockfighting was at one time considered to be an accepted, traditional sporting event in the United States. In many other areas around the world, cockfighting is still practiced as a mainstream event; in some countries it is government controlled.
While cockfighting is considered a heinous blood sport by animal welfare and animal rights activists and others, due in some part to the physical trauma the cocks inflict on each other, advocates of the sport[who?] often list cultural and religious relevance as reasons for perpetuation of cockfighting as a sport.
Owners set pairs of birds to fight in order to create a spectacle for the purpose of gambling. Historically, this was in a cockpit, a term which was also used in the 16th century to mean a place of entertainment or frenzied activity. William Shakespeare used the term in Henry V to specifically mean the area around the stage of a theater. In Tudor times, the Palace of Westminster had a permanent cockpit, called the Cockpit-in-Court.
Cockfighting was a pastime in the Indus Valley Civilization by 2000 BC. The Encyclopædia Britannica (2008)—on the origins of cockfighting—holds:
The game fowl is probably the nearest to the Indian red jungle fowl (Gallus gallus), from which all domestic chickens are believed to be descended.The sport was popular in ancient times in India, China, Persia, and other Eastern countries and was introduced into Greece in the time of Themistocles (c. 524–460 BC). For a long time the Romans affected to despise this “Greek diversion,” but they ended up adopting it so enthusiastically that the agricultural writer Columella (1st century AD) complained that its devotees often spent their whole patrimony in betting at the side of the pit.
In some regional variations, the birds are equipped with either metal spurs (called gaffs) or knives, tied to the leg in the area where the bird’s natural spur has been partially removed. A cockspur is a bracelet (often made of leather) with a curved, sharp spike which is attached to the leg of the bird. The spikes typically range in length from “short spurs” of just over an inch to long spurs almost two and a half inches long. In the highest levels of seventeenth century English cockfighting, the spikes were made of silver. In the naked heel variation, the bird’s natural spurs are left intact and sharpened: fighting is done without gaffs or taping, particularly in India (especially in Tamil Nadu) There it is mostly fought naked heel and either three rounds of twenty minutes with a gap of again twenty minutes or four rounds of fifteen minutes each and a gap of fifteen minutes between them.
Nicaragua, Venezuela, Colombia, Ecuador, France, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Philippines, Peru, Panama, Puerto Rico, Canary Islands, and Guam have arenas with seats or bleachers for spectators surrounding the ring. In many countries, the spectacle of cockfighting is as popular as baseball and American football are in the United States.[clarification needed] Among the competitors who raise fighting cocks, there is great pride in the prowess of their birds and in winning a championship.
In Aguascalientes, a state capital, one of the city’s principal concert halls is the cockfighting arena, the palenque. Palenques are very common throughout the country, with almost every major city having one, and are closely related to Mexican traditional music performers, such as Vicente Fernandez, and also being (as mentioned below) the stage for Pop artists as well. During the San Marcos Fair, well-known throughout Mexico, cockfights alternate with important concerts, where the singers or dancers perform from the cockpit. Many popular singers have performed there, e.g. Latin Grammy winners Alejandro Fernández and Alejandra Guzmán.
In Peru cockfighting is allowed and it takes place in coliseums with round sand fields. Only a judge and two managers each carrying a cock are allowed in the field. Judges use tables to facilitate the refereeing of fights.
Cockfighting championships of Peru are of two kinds, Beak and Spur. The Peruvian Razor Rooster (‘Gallo Navajero Peruano’) features in Spur fights. In Spur fights the weight and size of the rooster varies. There are free weight championships as well.
The most important cockfighting championships take place in the Lima Region at the Coliseums Sandia, Rosedal, Abraham Wong, The Peruvian Cockfighting Circle’s Coliseum and The Valentino, of the Rooster Breeders’ Association of Peru.
Cockfighting is common throughout all of Southeast Asia, where it is implicated in spreading bird flu. Some local terms for cockfights:
- Thailand, Thai: ตีไก่ Ti kai;
- The Philippines, Sabong.
- Vietnam, Đá gà.
- Indonesia and Malaysia, Sabung Ayam
In Bali, cockfights, known as tajen, have been forbidden since 1981 because the government of Indonesia says it constitutes gambling, although it continues to be practised in an ancient ritual to expel evil spirits called tabuh rah (“pouring blood”). The purpose of that cockfight is to spill blood. The spilled blood of the loser in the ground is offered to the evil spirits. Women are not allowed participate or even watch it. Until 1980, the bebebotoh (tajen gamblers) usually sacrificed their properties and family to continue their practices. In tajen, the cocks fight armed with a sharp knife called taji.
In Southern India
Cockfighting (Vetrukkaal seval porr in Tamil which means “naked heel cock fight”) (Kodi Pandem in Telugu) (Kori katta in Tulu) is a favourite sport of people living in the coastal region of Andhra Pradesh, Dakshina Kannada and Udupi districts of Tulu Nadu region of Karnataka,and the state of Tamil nadu India. Three- or four-inch blades (Bal in Tulu) are attached to the cocks’ legs. Knockout fights to the death are widely practised in Andhra Pradesh. In Tamil Nadu, the winner is decided after three or four rounds. People watch with intense interest surrounding the cocks. The sport has gradually become a gambling sport. Cockfighting in Tamil Nadu is mentioned in ancient literature like Manu Needhi Sastiram, Kattu Seval Sastiram, and other sangam-age literature, 2,000 years old. It is referred to as the favourite past-time for Maravars or the warriors of Tamil Country. It is acknowledged as one of the 64 “arts” widely spoken by the scholars and mastered by the ancestors/scholars of this part of the world. In earlier days they were fighting with the jungle fowl and its variants later, due to the naval expeditions to Java and Malay by the Pandian Rulers the local poultry of that land might have found its way to Tamil Nadu and a new strain/breed started its development in here which later spread to many places such as India. The newer breeds which are known now are The “Reja” (which is a short Variety),”Sonatol”,”Calcutta Asil”,”Madras ASil”,”Kalkatiya” (Also known as “Kadhar” synonymous to Black Asils), The Reds (Also known locally as “Yakuth”),The Yellow Variants (Also known as The “Peela” Asil), The Grey is known locally as “Java” and its variants reddish grey as “Dummer”. Also they have a “henny” variety cock known locally as “Pettai Madhiri” the literal meaning is “it looks like a hen”, though this variety is said to have come from “Singala Island”, or Sri Lanka.
Cockfighting is popular in Pakistan. Betting is illegal, but police often turn a blind eye towards it. In Sindh (one of 4 major provinces), people are fond of keeping fighting cock breed, known as “Sindhi aseel” in Pakistan. These cocks are noted being tall, heavy and good at fighting. Cock-fighting is popular in rural areas, despite the fact that animal-fighting is banned under Islamic Law.
Cockfighting in the Philippines is called “Sabong“. There are illegal and legal cockfights.
Legal cockfights are held on cockpits every week. Illegal cockfights, called tupada or “tigbakay”, happen any time in open areas. In both kind of cockfights, knives are used. Gloves are used for training purposes only.
Derbies are also held. These are cockfights where owners will field a fixed number of cocks. (e.g. 3-cock derby or 6-cock derby). The one with the most wins, wins the jackpot. The Philippines has hosted several World Slasher Derby.
There are 2 kinds of knives used in Philippine cockfighting. The single edge blade (use in derbies) and double edged blades.
All knives are attached on the left leg of the cock. But depending on the agreement between owners, blades can be attached on the right leg, or even on both legs.
Sabong and illegal tupada, are judged by a referee called sentensyador, whose verdict is final and not subject to any appeal.
In Guam the sport of cockfighting has been accepted as a cultural tradition dating back to the Spanish rule. Cockfighting became more popular with an influx of Filipino immigrants to the island before and after World War II. Cockfighting events are held throughout the week at a government licensed pit in the village of Dededo and in other villages during fiestas where a patron saint of that village is celebrated. Imported roosters and hens from the U.S. fetch a heavy price. On the island of Saipan, just north of Guam, cockfighting is also accepted as a cultural tradition. Legal cockfighting takes place several times a week in an arena called the “Dome”, in the village of Gualo Rai.
Other bird species
In 2009, authorities caught and shut down an illegal songbird-fighting ring in Shelton, Connecticut that had been using Saffron Finches and Canaries. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals commented that such songbird fighting is extremely rare.
In many places, cockfights and other animal fights have been outlawed, often based on opposition to gambling or animal cruelty. In the United States cockfighting is against the law. It is not illegal to possess, raise, train, advertise, or trade cocks or accoutrements that could be used for cockfighting. However, actively participating in a cockfight in any manner is illegal: advertising, transporting participants or spectators, placing wagers, hosting an event, etc. It is common for law enforcement to impound property associated with any cockfighting activity .
Cockfighting is banned in Spain except in Canary Islands. Organisations as WWF/Adena and some political parties are trying to ban there too. Contrasting with the rest of the country, bullfighting is instead forbidden in the Canary Islands, since it is not considered traditional, unlike cockfighting.
Cockfighting was banned outright in England and Wales and in the British Overseas Territories with the Cruelty to Animals Act 1835. Sixty years later, in 1895, cockfighting was also banned in Scotland, where it had been relatively common in the eighteenth century. . The Museum of Welsh Life contains a reconstructed cockpit and a reference exists in 1774 to a cockpit at Stanecastle in Scotland.
According to the RSPCA, cockfighting in England and Wales still takes place, but has declined in recent years.
Holding cockfights is a crime in France, but there is an exemption under subparagraph 3 of article 521-1 of the French penal code for cockfights and bullfights in locales where an uninterrupted tradition exists for them. Thus, cockfighting is allowed in the Nord-Pas de Calais region, in Metropolitan France, where it takes place in a small number of towns including Raimbeaucourt, La Bistade and other villages around Lille. On Réunion Island, there are five officially authorized gallodromes (i.e. cockfighting arenas).
Cockfighting has a tradition in some American cultures and history. It is said that some founding fathers participated in cockfighting including Washington and Jefferson. With the influx of immigrants from Mexico, Central America and Asia, they have each added new forms of cockfighting.
In the United States, cockfighting is illegal in all 50 U.S. states and Washington, D.C.. The last state to implement a state law banning cockfighting was Louisiana; the Louisiana State Legislature voted to approve a Louisiana ban in June 2007. The ban took effect in August 2008. Thirty-three states and the District of Columbia have made cockfighting a felony, and it is illegal in 40 states and the District of Columbia to be a spectator at cockfights. Animal welfare activists continue to lobby for a ban on the sport. Cockfighting remains legal in the United States territories of Puerto Rico, the U.S. Virgin Islands, the Northern Mariana Islands, and Guam, although in 2006, the Virgin Islands adopted a law banning the use of artificial spurs.
The Animal Fighting Prohibition Enforcement Act, a federal law that made it a federal crime to transfer cockfighting implements across state or national borders and increasing the penalty for violations of federal animal fighting laws to three years in prison became law in 2007. It passed the House of Representatives 368-39 and the Senate by unanimous consent and was signed into law by President George W. Bush.
Cocke County, Tennessee arrests
On June 11, 2005 a number of law enforcement agents raided a cockfighting pit in Del Rio, Tennessee.. Authorities claim this was one of the largest and oldest cockfighting operations in the United States. The agents arrested 144 people, killed over 300 roosters, and confiscated $40,000 in cash. The 144 people arrested were booked on charges of being spectators at a cockfight, a misdemeanor. In Tennessee, defendants found guilty of those charges face up to eleven months and twenty-nine days in jail, plus fines up to $2,500.
In popular culture
Cockfighting has inspired artists in several fields to create works which depict the activity. Several organizations, including the University of South Carolina, Jacksonville State University in Jacksonville, Alabama, and London football team Tottenham Hotspur F.C. have a gamecock as their mascot and the University of Delaware’s mascot is the Fightin’ Blue Hen.
Nathanael West’s 1939 novel The Day of the Locust includes a detailed and graphic cockfighting scene, as does the Alex Haley novel Roots: The Saga of an American Family and the miniseries based on it. Films that include scenes of the sport include the 1965 film The Cincinnati Kid, the 1974 film Cockfighter, directed by Monte Hellman (based on the novel of the same name by Charles Willeford). In literature, a description of a bordertown cockfight fiesta can be found in On the Border: Portraits of America’s Southwestern Frontier.
Cockfighting has also been mentioned in songs such as Kings of Leon’s Four Kicks and Bob Dylan’s song “Cry a while” from the album Love and Theft. The story song El Gallo del Cielo by Tom Russell is entirely about cockfighting, and the lyrics utilize detailed imagery of fighting pits, gamecocks, and gambling on the outcome of the fights.
The Expressionist painter Sir Robin Philipson, of Edinburgh, was well known for his series of works that included depictions of cockfighting.
Actor Wilford Brimley is a high profile supporter of cockfighting. He campaigned unsuccessfully in Arizona and New Mexico against laws banning cockfighting.
The term “Human cockfighting” was used by United States senator John McCain to describe mixed martial arts, which at the time he was campaigning to ban.
The Spike TV show 1000 Ways to Die featured a death involving a cockfight, where the man who bet on the rooster attached razors to its claws to ensure its winning, but ended up getting cut by it.
In the episode The Little Jerry of Seinfeld, Kramer enters his rooster into a cockfight in order to get one of Jerry’s bounced checks removed from a local bodega where the cockfights actually take place.