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Debate: Animals in sports and entertainment

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Should human beings be allowed to use other animals as objects of sport and entertainment?

This article is based on a Debatabase entry written by Thomas Dixon. Because this document can be modified by any registered user of this site, its contents should be cited with care.


Background and Context of Debate:

This debate is not about whether it is right for human beings to farm and eat other animals - this is covered in the debates on animal rights and vegetarianism. Neither is it about zoos, which are also covered in their own debate. Rather this debate is about various other uses of animals for sport, pleasure, and entertainment. A wide variety of examples from different cultures around the world might be brought into this debate: 'blood sports' such as fox and stag hunting, and fishing; forms of entertainment using performing animals, such as circuses; and sports in which animals perform for human enjoyment, such as horse racing and bull fighting. Views on these issues are often very culture-specific - e.g. some Spanish people may find it easy to accept bull fighting, or some British people may feel more sympathy with fox hunting - these practices can form part of a national culture. Nonetheless animal rights advocates find these to be the most indefensible ways that humans treat other animals. There are two parts to the proposition case: first, it is wrong in principle to exploit non-human animals in any way; secondly, there are many concrete examples of how animals are made to suffer in the context of sports and entertainment. As in any good debate, both sides should pay attention both to principled arguments and to concrete examples throughout the debate.This debate could be done, as it is here, as an overview of a whole range of uses of animals in sporting and entertainment contexts. Alternatively, one particular issue, such as hunting, circuses, or horse/dog racing, could be taken as the main focus.

Argument #1


All forms of sport and entertainment that exploit non-human animals should be banned; animals, like us, can feel fear, stress, exhaustion, and pain. To use animals for our own amusement, whether hunting them for sport or making them perform for us, is demeaning to ourselves as well as to them. Being a species with a great amount of power and control over other species brings with it a responsibility not to abuse that power. Using animals in sports and entertainment is an abuse of our position of responsibility and brutalises society towards animals and nature.


All cultures throughout history have used animals in the context of sport and entertainment, from Roman chariot racing up to present day hunting, racing, and circuses. The issue here is not whether or not we can use other species for our own purposes - we can and it is only natural - the issue is animal cruelty, which everyone can agree should be ended. The proposition needs to demonstrate that the practices they are referring to are cruel - it is not enough to appeal to vague principles such as animal rights. There are two categories of activity that are acceptable: first, killing animals that are pests or that are going to be eaten; and secondly, using animals in enjoyable human sports in ways that do not involve cruelty.

Argument #2


It is very easy to take up the opposition's challenge to provide concrete examples of cruelty to animals - there are many. Take the case of 'blood sports'. All sorts of hunting, shooting, and fishing boil down to slaughtering other animals for pleasure. If the prey is a pest (e.g. foxes), or needs culling (e.g. hares, deer), there are always more humane ways to kill it than hunting it to the point of terror and exhaustion with a pack of hounds- e.g. killing it with a rifle shot. If the prey is being killed for food it is entirely gratuitous. In modern society people do not need to kill food for themselves but can buy it from a source where animals have been killed humanely; indeed no-one needs to eat meat at all and for moral, health, and environmental reasons they should not (see vegetarianism debate). As for fishing, again there is absolutely no need to catch or eat fish; even when anglers throw their catch back in they have first put a hook through its palate.


Hunting and fishing are natural activities - many other species in the wild kill and eat each other and there is no reason why we should be any different. These sports are always undertaken for a rational reason and are never gratuitous - they are either to exterminate pests or to provide food. In the case of foxes they are pests. Most of the alternative ways of killing them are more cruel - e.g. trapping, snaring, or shooting, which often have the end result of maiming the fox and leaving it to die slowly of starvation and infection. A fox killed by hounds dies instantaneously. In the case of killing animals to eat - such as fish, or game birds such as pheasants and grouse - the justification is even more straightforward; it is the most natural activity in the world to hunt and eat. And given the controversy surrounding the welfare of animals in modern farms, it would seem preferable to eat an animal that had had a free and happy life in the wild than one that had been reared in a factory farm. In the case of fishing, many anglers who fish for sport throw their catches back in, so the fish come to no lasting harm.

Argument #3


Horses and dogs are among the principle victims of exploitation in human sporting activities. The main purpose of horse- and dog-racing is for human beings to indulge their penchant for gambling. The welfare of the animals involved is at best a secondary concern. Horses are frequently injured and die in horse races, especially races over hurdles such as the infamous British 'Grand National'; they are also blinkered and whipped to make them run faster. It is unconvincing to claim that the animals can enjoy being subjected to this. As for the conditions the animals are kept in, these may be good for the top dogs and horses, but in the main conditions are poor, and once the animals cease to win races they are likely to be neglected, abandoned, or slaughtered. Horses are also forced to take part in the dangerous contact sport of polo in which collisions and a hard, fast-moving puck pose serious danger to the animals who, unlike their riders, have no choice in whether they take part.


We need to strike a balance between human pleasure and animal welfare. The proposition's point of view is much too unbalanced. Putting the animal welfare case at its strongest, we should ban all sports in which animals are treated cruelly, or are at high risk of injury or death. None of the sports mentioned by the proposition here fall into that category. Anyone who works in horse- or dog-racing will tell you that it is in their interest to ensure that the animals are healthy and happy, or else they will not perform well. They will also tell you that most of these animals enjoy racing and enjoy winning. As for polo, horses are rarely injured, the risk on injury is acceptably low.

Argument #4


The circus is another arena in which human beings abuse other animals. Animals are trained to perform tricks using whips, electronic goads, sticks, food-deprivation etc. Wild animals such as lions, tigers, and elephants are kept in shamefully inadequate conditions in tiny spaces. The necessity of regular transportation means that the circus can never provide an appropriate home for wild animals. These animals are forced to travel thousands of miles in cramped and squalid conditions and frequently end up physically and mentally ill. And what for? Purely for the entertainment of we arrogant exploitative humans. What sort of lesson does it teach our children about non-human animals to take them to the circus and see these great creatures demeaned and controlled by force to perform silly tricks?


The circus is where children first learn to love animals! The proposition are right to draw attention to issues of animal welfare but again, they do not need to take such an extremist approach. There is evidence that animals enjoy performing and can form close relationships with their trainers and with an audience. Closer scrutiny of circuses and better enforcement of animal welfare laws are desirable, but once those conditions are met the circus can be seen as a celebration of wild animals and the relationships they can form with animal-loving human beings. If the reality falls short of this ideal then reform is called for, not abolition.

Argument #5


Bull fighting is probably the most barbaric exploitation of animals that is still legally practised (in Spain, Portugal, parts of France, Mexico, and, illegally, in the United States). The idea that there is a fair match between the bull and the matador is laughable. The bull dies at the end of every single bullfight (it is either killed by the matador or slaughtered afterwards if it survives); for a matador to be seriously injured is rare and it is very rare indeed for a matador to die as the result of a bull fight. During bull fights the animals are taunted and goaded, and have sharp spears stuck into their bodies until eventually they collapse from their injuries and exhaustion. Matadors are not heroes or artists, they are cruel cowards.


To condemn bull fighting is to fail to be sensitive to cultural differences and to the true nature of the sport. First, bull fighting is an integral part of traditional Spanish culture that should therefore be respected in the same way that any other minority activity (such as the slaughtering of animals according to certain Jewish or Muslim ritual laws) would be. Secondly, the bull fight is a symbolic enactment of the battle between man and beast; the matador is a highly trained and highly skilled artist and fighter and takes his life in his hands when he enters the ring - it is a match between man and animal. Finally, since the bull would be killed anyway, it is of little consequence how it is killed.



  • This House Condemns the Use of Animals for Entertainment
  • This House Would not go Hunting, Shooting, or Fishing
  • This House Would not go to the Races
  • This House Would Ban Circuses

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