It’s no secret that the world of thoroughbred racing now mimics the very worst aspects of professional cycling, with so many contests determined by pharmaceutical aids. Less well-known is the impact that performance-enhancing drugs have had on other animal-centric sports, where doping has become commonplace despite the relatively meager financial rewards on offer. Pigeon racing, for example, has experienced scandals in which trainers have used illicit drugs in order to encourage either molting or rapid weight loss. And in the ultra-competitive world of Chinese cricket fighting, officials must now go to pre-bout extremes to ensure that the combatants haven’t been doctored with dope:
The public house is designed to counter some of the more underhand tactics said to be popular among cricket trainers. The most sensational of these is doping, especially with ecstasy. Although a tripped-out cricket is likely to be a winning cricket, the drug’s real target is the opposition: crickets are acutely sensitive to stimulants. They rapidly detect when their adversary is chemically enhanced and they respond by turning tail, so forfeiting the contest.
Every cricket slated for Boss Xun’s casino spends at least five days undergoing detox in his public house. Part maximum security zone, part clinic, it was a four-room apartment stripped and retooled. Three rooms had multiply-padlocked steel gates, the fourth was a social space equipped with couch, chairs, TV and PlayStation, its whitewashed walls
decorated with colour close-ups—glamour shots—of crickets. Nobody drank or smoked. Two of the gated rooms were bolted storage areas lined with shelves on which I made out stacks of cricket pots. The third was unlocked and, like the casino, brightly lit. Boss Xun led us inside and I saw a long table and a row of men—owners and trainers there to care for their insects—each tending to a pot. Two assistants, men I recognized from the casino, were stationed across the table. One of them fetched the labelled pots from a cabinet behind him while the other closely observed the visitors. But what made the scene momentarily disorienting was that the men lined up at the table, silently intent on their crickets, were dressed identically in white surgical gowns and matching white masks.
Much more on the science of fighting crickets here. I, for one, cannot wait for the forthcoming publication of “The role of body size and fighting experience in predicting contest behaviour in the black field cricket, Teleogryllus commodus.”