Cock-fighting
The losing bird often ends up in the pot.Reuters

Cock-fighting may be set to die out in France following a ruling by the country's highest court to uphold a ruling prohibiting new rings.

The ruling by the Constitutional Council was applauded by animal rights activists as a huge step towards the end of a sport they condemn as barbaric.

Cruelty to animals is banned under French law, but legislation was relaxed in 1964 to allow cock-fighting -- as well as bullfighting -- in regions where there was "an uninterrupted tradition" of the sport. At the time General de Gaulle said: "Since we eat cocks, they have to die."

This means cock fights persist in France's north-east, as well as in former overseas colonies including French Guiana, the French West Indies and Reunion.

Rooster owners from Reunion mounted the challenge in the Constitutional Court.

According to the charity Cause Animale Nord, the French cock-fighting federation has 5,000 members, while 45,000 birds die in fights.

Many cocks enter the ring with blades attached to their spurs, angering activists.

Losing birds are sold for the pot for around €10. "There is a family atmosphere," said Guillaume Levecq, who organises fights in Gondecourt in north France.

Meanwhile, the sport retains a following in the UK, despite its illegality, with enthusiasts travelling to fights near Calais.

In 2012 a father and son from west Sussex were prosecuted after a raid on their farms uncovered a large cock-fighting operation involving more than 500 birds.

Mark Giles, 48, and his 26-year-old son, also called Mark, pleaded guilty to 19 charges of animal cruelty following an RSPCA investigation.

Steroids were thought to have been used on the birds in order to make them stronger and more aggressive.

Cock-fighting is often linked to other crime, most notably illegal gambling, and it can be a source of disease, most notoriously bird flu, because owners often come into contact with their birds' blood during the fights.

A prize fighting cock can sell for large amounts of money and is often a large bird with attractive plumes. Breeders frequently pluck the birds' feathers and use shears to cut off the roosters' waddles and combs (the flesh at the top of their heads and below their beaks) to stop other roosters tearing them off in the ring.

Cock-fighting is thought to be the world's oldest spectator sport, dating back 6,000 years in Iran and was prevalent in ancient Greece, where to start with it was a religious and political institution, important for imbuing young men with valour. In the state of Tamil Nadu, India, it goes back more than 2,000 years and is often still regarded as a sacred religious ritual rather than -- or as well as -- a sporting event.

At least 15 countries around the world have spectator arenas for the sport, many approaching the size of football stadiums. It has been widely featured in fine art, literature, music and film.

It remains to be seen whether the ban on new arenas in France will hasten the end of the sport there. Indeed, by protecting existing venues from competition the new law might inadvertently make its perpetuation more likely.