Racing pigeons, not those being sent to the Barcelona event, in a cage.
CNN  — 

A scandal has engulfed pigeon racing after 11 French birds were found dead on the eve of a major competition.

A further seven birds remain seriously ill in the suspected poisoning, leading to the Club des Internationaux Français’ (CIF) decision to withdraw 2,000 of its birds from the event over safety fears.

Nearly 15,000 birds had been “basketed” for the Barcelona 2020 endurance race, according to the PIPA website.

Basketing had begun on July 26 ahead of Friday’s race, said the PIPA website.

“The toll this morning was 11 pigeons dead with 7 pigeons seriously injured taken into veterinary care. The amateurs will be notified by our team,” said the CIF statement.

READ: Chinese buyer bids record $1.4 million for racing pigeon

Initially it was suspected that the death of the birds was due to the Covid-19 pandemic said the CIF, adding that an autopsy revealed “a possible poisoning” – suspected to have been carried in a contaminated watering can.

“The results arrived in the evening, the drinkable water was not incriminating but the analysis of the pigeon showed a strong concentration of an additive that could have been resting in a watering can in the area. This watering can could have been used by mistake for replenishing refreshment stands,” read a statement from the CIF.

“This wasn’t an easy decision to take and we understand the frustration and worry of amateur competitors about the Barcelona competition but in all cases we are sure that we would not have fairness in this competition for all.”

The President of the French pigeon club called those who rejoiced and chuckled at the deaths “vultures” and “parasites.”

“I would likely to personally convey my feelings regarding this fatal mistake having caused the cancellation of the Barcelona France competition,” he wrote in a letter.

“My first thoughts go evidently to those who are directly impacted by the loss of one, maybe many of their pigeons.”

Pigeon racing competitions can be lucrative for bird owners not least if they decide to sell their prized possessions.

In March 2019, a Chinese buyer bid more than $1.4 million for a prized Belgian racing pigeon in an “unprecedented” sale, according to the auctioneer that organized the sale.