A cheating scandal has rocked China's bird racing world following recent revelations that pigeons had been taking the high-speed train during an annual competition in Shanghai.
The scandal first unfolded during last year's Shanghai Pigeon Grand Prix (yes, it's a real thing). According to a criminal case recently settled in Changning District People's Court, four front-running pigeons crossed the finish line with suspiciously short race times thanks to a trip on the fast train.
Legal Daily reports that on April 29, 2017, two men surnamed Gong and Zhang entered four domesticated pigeons in the Shanghai Pigeon Association's 16th annual Shanghai Pigeon Grand Prix for the chance to win cash prizes. The combined value of their race awards totaled to RMB1,092,500.
The four birds easily won the competition, which kicked off in an undisclosed location north of the Yangtze River in Henan province. In a field of nearly 6,000 feathered contestants, the four were the first to fly back to their 'home nest' in Shanghai.
Birds released during a recent Pigeon Grand Prix. Image via Liberation Daily/Weibo
However, pigeon fans began to suspect fowl play after race results were officially released by the Pigeon Association.
Later it was revealed that Gong and Zhang had devised an elaborate plot to win the race. Gong was said to have first hatched the scheme in 2016.
According to Sina, the men used older domesticated pigeons and entered them into the competition along with locally-bred pigeons. This went against the competition rules, which stipulated that only one-year-old pigeons could be allowed to enter the contest. The 'fake' pigeons originated from a breeding farm in Henan.
Ahead of the big race, the men trained the enhanced pigeons to find two designated pigeon sheds — one in Henan close to the release point and another in Shanghai. After each handing three pigeons over to race organizers on April 29, the men then drove to the Henan shed on the morning of May 1 to pick the birds up after the race began. They smuggled the birds into milk cartons and hopped on a Shanghai-bound bullet train to get ahead of the flock.
When they arrived in Shanghai that afternoon, they released the birds to go off and find the Shanghai shed, giving the illusion that they had flown back to their 'home nest.' Two of Gong's pigeons would go on to win first and third prize, while Zhang's came in second and fourth place.
When some began raising doubts about the sweep, the Pigeon Association decided to open an investigation into the results of the top 1,000 finishers. Fearing they'd be caught, Gong and Zhang destroyed the evidence by killing their prized pigeons so that they couldn't be re-examined. Perhaps feeling guilty, the men never collected their cash bonuses.
The organizers then reported the case to police, and the two men were arrested shortly afterwards on suspicion of fraud.
Yesterday, Changning District People's Court handed down their final judgment in the case, with both men receiving three-year prison sentences for rigging the competition. Gong was also slapped with a four-year probation and RMB30,000 fine, while Zhang received a three-year probabtion and RMB20,000 fine.