The use of animals in sport is as old as sport itself, even if our ideas of what is acceptable entertainment have changed over the years. Fortunately, we have moved on from the brutal gladiatorial games of the Romans that would pit beasts against condemned prisoners or martyrs, or the vicious bear baiting of the Middle Ages.
These days, animals are part of sporting events from rodeos to hunting, greyhound and horse racing—and even frog racing in some places—to demonstrate events that show off the skills of both animals and humans.
Opinions vary about the morality of some of these events, and may differ from person to person, or culture to culture. Here in Australia we have seen a great deal of public debate around both greyhound and horse racing, with calls for increased regulation or even abolition. We’ve seen a discussion about whether some activities like hunting even qualify as a sport, and whether they are acceptable in today’s world.
Regardless of where we land on those issues, the very fact we are asking the question is worth some examination. Some people might argue that there is no moral quandary, that animals are there for our use and that our entertainment trumps their rights.
So, why should we draw a line between what sports are okay? Why should we concern ourselves with the treatment of animals in sport? There are, I think, two reasons why it is important we ensure that we are mindful of what we consider acceptable.
The first is that any cruelty, whether against animals or each other, hurts more than its subject. It also damages those inflicting or watching it, coarsening the heart and soul. And the way in which we treat those who are powerless—human or animal—says a great deal about who we are, as a culture or as individuals. We would like to think that we have come a long way since the days of crowds baying at the sight of some poor creature being butchered for our amusement.
The second reason is that, according to the Bible, God has given us stewardship of the Earth and all that it contains, which includes the plant and animal kingdoms. It doesn’t mean that they are not there to be used, but that we are meant to do so in a responsible and sustainable manner.
To treat animals as if they are disposable or of no value is to spurn the gift that we have been given. It is one thing to put food on our table in as humane a way as possible, but to mistreat or destroy the often beautiful and majestic creatures that inhabit the world around us simply for the sake of entertainment, or in a way that cheapens their life, could be seen as an act of ingratitude.
Whatever our position, it’s something at least worth considering next time the discussion comes up.