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French court upholds ban on new cockfighting arenas

Shammi Mehra, AFP | France's Constitutional Council upheld a law on July 31, 2015 banning the construction of new cockfighting arenas

France’s highest court, the Constitutional Council, upheld a law on Friday banning the construction of new cockfighting arenas, ruffling the feathers of some supporters of the controversial sport.

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While a law against animal cruelty prohibits cockfighting in most of France, it is allowed in the country’s northern Nord-Pas-de-Calais region, as well as in a number of its overseas territories, where the sport is considered a part of the local heritage.

But the Constitutional Council dealt the sport a blow on Friday after upholding a law banning the construction of any new cockfighting arenas.

The case was brought before the court by two men from the French island of Réunion, where cockfighting is allowed, who said they had been unfairly prosecuted for opening a new ring in their hometown of Sainte-Marie in 2012.

They argued that cockfighting should be treated like bullfighting, which is also considered a traditional sport and is allowed to build new arenas.

But in its decision, the Constitutional Council ruled that the two sports were “in their nature, distinct practices”, and therefore could not be dealt with in the same manner.

While animal rights groups welcomed the ruling, Christian Lévêque, a long-time cockfighting enthusiast and president of the Gondecourt Historical Society in Nord-Pas-de-Calais, said that it threatened the future of the sport.

A dying tradition

“In France, it’s a pastime that’s been enjoyed by the poor for hundreds of years, and now there are people who know nothing about it – who are in their offices and who have never seen a fight in their lives, who have never stepped foot in a ‘ring’ – who want to impose their law,” he said.

Not everyone in the cockfighting world, however, was upset by the Constitutional Council’s decision.

“The decision confirms the law,” said Jean-Louis Hoyez, president of the Club Français Combattants du Nord, a cockfighting club based in Nord-Pas-de-Calais. “I don’t get why there’s a new discussion.”

He added that he didn’t see much point in opening new arenas when so many old ones in the region have closed down over the years.

“It’s very hard to make a living off of a cockfighting arena. It’s also extremely expensive to raise cockfighting chickens. You have to have the money, the space … it’s very costly and it doesn’t bring in any money,” Hoyez said.

“It’s a tradition that’s in the process of dying,” he said.

“It makes us sad, but what can we do?” he asked.

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