WHAT LIES AHEAD?
by CHRIS KNOWLES
Middle/Long distance enthusiast & Chairman of The North West Classic Club
Being asked to make a contribution to this year's book has provided me with an opportunity to share with the fancy some of my thoughts and views surrounding the future of our sport and possible ways forward. I think that many organisations today within the pigeon sport are suffering from common problems. The obvious ones are a membership, which is reducing in numbers and costs that, are rising annually. These factors should not surprise us as fanciers as that is what is happening on a daily basis in most walks of life. Given that we know, from our experiences in life in general, that if we do not change with the times, that we will suffer, then we must carry this valuable lesson across into our sport of pigeon racing. As a sport we need to accept that if we do not change and change sooner rather than later, then we will not survive!
I know from personal experience in my role as Chairman of the progressive North West Classic Club, where much change has been introduced over the last five seasons, that the implementation of change is easier said than done! I am fortunate in many ways that my job for most of my working life, has involved the management of change. There is without doubt very little difference between the needs of a major business, to those of a pigeon club, if the objective is to survive and perhaps even grow. Both can be summarised as " An organisation, which needs to provide a product or service to its customers at an acceptable standard and without making a financial loss". It goes without saying that if the standard of product or service supplied, exceeds the expectation of the customer and that the finances of the organisation as a result are very healthy, then you have a future!
Translating the above into the world of pigeon racing should not be too difficult. To do this, however, within the pigeon sport, seems to be almost an impossible task or it takes that long that it becomes too late to gain any benefits. The first thing that we need to do as a sport in general is to escape from our current dilemma of a sport "In denial". Lets face the facts; most clubs are run on a very old fashioned and complex system of democracy, where the pigeon politicians are in their glory. You must have experienced the sort of thing that I am referring to, where a progressive member has made a proposition to change something for the good of the club, only to be stopped in his tracks by the man who says "The wording is not acceptable "! And sure enough the proposition is thrown out and status quo then exists for another 12 months. In the meantime, the positive member who tried to help the club, himself and fellow members has probably become totally disillusioned and either gone to another club or worst case left the sport. Another problem scenario is where the traditional fancier who works for his living, can not compete neither financially nor in terms of time against the modern day syndicates or partnerships who probably consist of three or four partners of who at least fifty percent have all day to spend with their birds. Now, before you get the wrong end of the stick, I am not suggesting that the above examples should be eliminated, I am simply suggesting that the sport needs to review and change such factors, so that ALL fanciers can participate and compete on a more level playing field, where rules are made and observed to protect and nurture the future of the sport, on a more equitable footing than we do at present.
As an example I will comment on the two scenarios that I list above. Firstly the proposition that is wrongly worded and thrown out. No successful business or organisation would ever cast aside a good idea. SO why can't we change our rules to allow us to discuss the essence of such an idea and if necessary correct the wording and presentation, so that it can still be discussed and voted upon in a true democratic manner. In other words behave like sensible adults. With regards to the "Syndicate syndrome" we only need to observe what happens on the continent, especially in Belgium, which is hailed as the leading nation in the world of pigeon racing. What they have has been widely written about and you can see articles in the weekly media from a certain few disciples. In summary though, they provide a more level playing field. By this I mean that to become a Champion, you compete with a chosen number of birds in a set programme of races. You cannot call yourself Champion by winning a race of your choice when you sent one hundred birds and everyone else sent five to twenty birds. In other words they ensure that everyone understands what you have to do in advance to achieve the status of Champion or Ace Pigeon and then perhaps even more importantly, they recognise the achievement and give it due recognition within their sport.
On the continent, their racing is over land, where here in the North of England, to fly middle/long distance on the South route we need to cross the channel. This brings in the obvious factor of cost and also the subject of transportation and it's design/suitability.
It stands to reason that unless small organisations join together and share what are ever increasing costs, and then our birds will never travel in adequate transporters and at a reasonable cost. This problem if not addressed will lead to elimination of local clubs racing from across the channel. It would be nice to see a process where all club Channel races are flown through "The National", where modern up to standard transport would be used and the costs would be realistic. The major bonus would be a "True National" where all the country is competing and the birdage would be significant. This I am sure would not only secure the future of channel racing but would also unite what is a very fragmented sport in the UK. There is no reason why a local club could not have for example, taking the North of England, two races with the North West Classic and a third with the North West Classic via the National, as it's channel programme. This would mean that local club's could hold races from venues like Pau with no extra overhead costs. I firmly believe that this is the only way forward and I do not accept the argument that fanciers can't afford to join a local club a classic club and the National. Lets face it if e are not prepared to pay around £50 per year as subs, which is what the three organisations above would cost, then we will never have suitable transport at a reasonable price and quite frankly if that is the case, then we should not keep racing pigeons.
Heroes and Champions!
Every sport needs its heroes and champions, as they are the inspiration and motivation to all others who compete in that sport. Pigeon racing is no exception! The lack of them could well be part of the reason that it is difficult to promote our sport to the general public and attract young people into our sport. If we are to have true champions and indeed heroes within our sport, then those titles must be gained in fair and open competition. The same would apply to the pigeon as it would to the fancier. Once again as above, to achieve this, the small organisations need to come together to form large if not one organisation on at least a couple of occasions per year, to produce these champions and heroes. When you consider that the "Barcelona International" is recognised as the greatest race in the world, it is living proof of the formula needed to achieve such status.
Just think, all the self-proclaimed champions who sell hundreds of pigeons per year through the fancy press, would not be able to adopt such titles. Just think, results would be available for everyone to see and with very high birdage, which is what you would have, it would be even possible to publish results via TV Teletext, let alone the Internet. All of a sudden you begin to realise that this sport of ours doesn't need to remain the shadows as a dying sport, there is actual a way forward. However, it would take a radical change of attitude in the sport as a whole and the selfish and political agendas would need to disappear from local organisations and administration. We should not forget, that when all is said and done, we have a choice and survival and progress are optional. If you don't really care about such things, then at least don't spoil it for those who do!
The North West Classic Club
Whilst I have the opportunity I thought that I would relate a little about the sort of innovations and change that my club has introduced over the past few seasons. I am doing this to give some ideas to those who may be interested, not to suggest that other organisations do not have something as good or indeed better. The changes that we have made, have embraced the needs of the present day fanciers of the North West of England, whilst recognising the benefits of modern technology and what it can offer to the members of a pigeon club.
Ace Pigeons: It is firmly believed at the highest levels of the pigeon sport, that those pigeons that can repeat performances of a high standard are without doubt in a league of their own. Already across Europe there is wide recognition for the gallant pigeons that win the coveted award for "Ace Pigeon". There is a strong argument to say that these pigeons are better than the bird that wins 1 st National but is unable to repeat a performance at a high level. The value of Ace Pigeons in Europe is evident from the demand that they create and the prices that they and their offspring command. Following the theme that consistency is an achievement worthy of recognition, three seasons ago the NWCC introduced a series of awards, one of which was for 2Ace Pigeon". These awards go to the birds in each of the respective sections, which have the best coefficient from one of the 300/400-mile races plus the 500-mile race. The pigeon therefore, has to be timed in two of the races and one of those races must be the blue ribband race from Saintes, which is approx. 512 miles to the shortest flyer.
Champion Loft: This award is similar to that of Ace Pigeon in the respect that it has been practiced in Europe for many years. Its introduction to the NWCC was for very simple reasons. It was to ensure that the fancier had play a true role in achieving the results from which could be claimed the title of Champion. Another key factor was to make the title of Champion, one that was competed for on as fair a basis as possible. To do this, five birds only from each loft in each race compete for the title. These five birds have to be selected and nominated by the fancier and only a pigeon from this list of five can go towards the calculation of best coefficient for the Championship races. From this we have our section and Open Champions.
The above two awards ensure that along with the winners of the individual NWCC races, there is pride of place for both pigeons and fanciers alike who can produce the most consistent high level of performance under some of the fairest rules of pigeon racing. No longer do we hear claims of "He only won that because he sends a basket full" or "That pigeon only won because of the wind". We have the continental system that has stood the test of time and which is now helping to bring true and fair recognition to good British pigeons.
Administration Software: This is probably the jewel in the crown of the NWCC. The programme that we have for producing results is also an audit tool and produces all our league tables for the Championship awards and also prints diplomas for our races and special awards. The programme has been developed by Mysoft who can be found on our Web Site at www.pigeonsnorthwest.co.uk . Sandy from Mysoft has spent many patient hours developing the software from ideas from myself and the Secretary, who in turn has also spent many hours testing and perfecting it. I can say with much pride that we have a system to be proud of and that we have obtained at a very reasonable cost. Here is a model that other organisations would do well to consider. It does many things over and above what I have already mentioned and is a must for any organisation wishing to survive and improve.
Web Site: Like other top organisations in the country we have our own web site. What we have tried to do though is to make it a useful tool for our members. It has Liberation time and line of flight forecasts on it at a very early stage after liberation. The provisional result is on the site the day after liberation or on which winning birds are timed. You can access club rules and download race entry forms etc. Yes as you my have already commented in some respects it is like the National sites. The difference is that the NWCC is nowhere near the size of a National yet it has as much if not more to offer to it's members and when it comes to value for money i.e. the cost of subs and prize monies paid out, I think I dare say that it rates second to none!
If my narrative on the NWCC sounds a bit biased, then it is not intended, I just wanted to illustrate what can be achieved if you have the people with the desire. I say this as a proud Chairman who hopes that members will enjoy the benefits for many years to come and who knows, hopefully some of these ideas may assist other clubs to aspire to the same.
There are many aspects of our sport, which need to be addressed and indeed improved, if we are to survive and hopefully prosper. What will not be possible however is to change one thing and improve the sport by 1,000%, in one foul swoop. What can be done is to improve 1,000 things by 1% and in doing so effect some powerful change. The way to do this is for each of us to play our part and make a positive contribution to the club's that we are a part of. Throw away the "five-mile sniper attitude" and be supportive to those members who are working hard to try to improve things. Don't criticize others, make a contribution yourself! We have the talents amongst our ranks, we only need to recall why we came into this sport and harness those positive thoughts. We can influence what lies ahead! Enjoy your hobby and may your glass be half full and not half empty!
One of the most powerful organisations in the Motor Vehicle industry, Honda, have a very meaningful advertising slogan "The Power of Dreams", which is derived from a phrase in Japanese. This phrase means a little more than the English word can express, it is more like "Goals" than dreams and having the ability and attitude to make them happen. This is where the answer lies to the question "What lies ahead"? As a sport we the fanciers of Great Britain need to look ahead. We need to formulate our Goals and Dreams and then we need to make them happen. We live in a world and society where change is constant and if we stand still we will for sure, fall behind. We don't need to re-invent the wheel, as there are good examples to follow or customise to our own needs. However, we need to start helping each other, become united and not divided, provide the opportunities for fair competition and recognise our Champions and Heroes! Then my friends pigeon racing may have a future that we can pass on with pride.