Nothing is sacred it appears in the high-flying world of pigeon racing in Belgium, where six birds were found to have been doped with drugs such as cocaine and painkillers, Belgian media reported Thursday.
Cycling-mad Belgium is used to hearing of sports stars pumped up on performance-enhancing drugs, but officials are now homing-in on the birds used in a sport which rakes in millions in breeding and prize monies.
The Belgian pigeon-racing federation sent samples from 20 birds to the National Horseracing Authority of Southern Africa after a recent exchange visit, two Flemish dailies reported.
Although tests on the same birds in Belgium had not revealed a problem, the South African lab did.
"Cocaine in one, painkillers and anti-fever drugs for another," the newspapers reported.
Belgian pigeon racing has acquired new-found fame recently with the 310,000 euros ($430,000) sale to a Chinese gambler of the country's top-performing bird "Bolt," named after six-time Olympic sprint champion, Jamaica's Usain Bolt.
The riches and glamour now on offer have brought with them problems of theft from breeders and racketeering.
Over the summer the star pigeon Bolt and hundreds of other Belgian racing pigeons were held up by Chinese customs in a row over their declared value which triggered a multi-million euro entry wrangle.
The sport sees specially bred and trained pigeons released from a specific location and race back to their home loft.