This House would ban the use of animals as objects of sport and entertainment

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.  Note though that many of the proposition arguments will also apply to other animal rights debates, so be wary of allowing overlapping points to distract from the central issue.

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.

The most ubiquitous example to be found almost everywhere in the world though is the use of circus animals (no longer in the UK though). [1]  It is worth noting that with regards any debate involving the European Union, the rights of animals in Circuses are currently treated as a matter for individual member states and are seen as a distinct and different issue to the rights of animals in Zoos (which are covered by EU wide directives on minimum welfare standards). [2]

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. 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.


The use of animals in sport demeans humans

Other animals may not have the same level of sapience as humans, but they feel fear, stress, exhaustion and pain just as we do.  It is immoral to derive pleasure either from the suffering or forced performance of another living being, especially when that being is under one’s power and control.

It would of course be absurd to suggest that animals should have equality with humans on the level of having the right to vote or of criminal responsibility, but they should have equality with us on terms of equal consideration of interests, that is, pain and suffering should be equally significant whether it is a human or an animal that feels it.[1]

[1] For further reading see any work by Peter Singer.


This point assumes a naïve and Disney-like conception of nature. Hunting and fishing are natural activities - many other species in the wild kill and eat each other.  If fear, stress, exhaustion and pain are natural parts of the cycle of life then why should there be any particular duty on us to prevent them?

We, like other animals, prefer our own- our own family, the “pack” that we happen to run with, and the larger communities constructed on the smaller ones, of which the largest is the ‘nation-state’. 

Suppose a dog menaced a human infant and the only way to prevent the dog from biting the infant was to inflict severe pain on the dog – more pain, in fact, than the bite would inflict on the infant.  Any normal person would say that it would be monstrous to spare the dog, even though to do so would be to minimise the sum of pain in the world.  We should respect this instinctive moral reaction.[1]

[1] See the arguments of Richard A. Posner from 'Animal Rights debate between Peter Singer & Richard Posner'.

Blood sports cannot be justified by reference to their role in pest control or conservation

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.


In the case of foxes, most of the alternative ways of killing them are crueler - 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 very quickly. 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, as many examples of secret filming (Warning: may find disturbing) in abattoirs show far more cruelty than you see on your standard deer or rabbit hunt. In the case of fishing, many anglers who fish for sport throw their catches back in, so the fish come to no lasting harm.

Treating animals as property prevents them from being perceived as part of the moral community

As long as animals are treated as property, their interests will always be subsidiary to the interests of their owners.  To treat animals as property simply because they are not human is specieism[1] and no different to discrimination on race or gender.[2]

For humans, not being a slave is the practical prerequisite of all other rights.  So too must it be for animals.  Making the treatment of animals more ‘humane’ is an inadequate solution because it does not change the fundamental problem of exploitation.

[1] BBC Ethics guide, ‘The ethics of speciesism’

[2] Gary Francione, ‘The animal rights debate: abolition or regulation?’ p.22 


“Specieism is not merely plausible; it is essential for right conduct, because those who will not make the morally relevant distinctions among species are almost certain, in consequence, to misapprehend their true obligations.”[1]

Conflating specieism with racism or sexism is fallacious because it fails to recognise that the former involves fundamental differences, whereas all people regardless of skin colour or gender are ‘human beings’.  

As animals are incapable of moral enquiry they can never acquire rights beyond those that humans choose to bestow on them.

[1] C. Cohan (1986) The case of the use of animals in biomedical research, The New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 315, No 14.

Animals are harmed when used as objects of entertainment, no matter how innocent that entertainment is

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?

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, even the British Horseracing Authority has accepted the use of the whip needs to be limited out of concern for the welfare of the animals.[1] Or the Riverside (Washington)Suicide Race[2][3], where horse often die from the nearly 400 foot steep grade of the suicide hill, the riders trying to make it down and through a river. 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.

[1] British Horseracing Authority, ‘Whip use and specification’, 2011.

[2] Wikipedia, Suicide Race

[3] Nick Timiraos, ‘The Race Where Horses Die’.


The circus is where children first learn to love animals! The proposition is 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.

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 of injury is acceptably low.

Fighting bulls have a better quality of life than meat-producing bulls

If animal welfare is the primary concern then consistency requires that if one accepts the raising and slaughter of animals for meat then one should also accept the raising and slaughter of animals for entertainment.

“Those who see bullfighting as cruel are, of course, right. It is cruel that man should breed and kill animals for his enjoyment whether as a dinner or a dance. But to my mind the life of an Iberian fighting bull, a thoroughbred animal which lives to a minimum age of four, roaming wild, feasting on Spain's finest pasture, never even seeing a man on foot, is far superior to that of the many thousands of British bulls whose far shorter lives are spent entirely in factory conditions and killed in grim abattoirs so that we can eat beefburgers.”[1]

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.

[1] Robert Elms, ‘End bullfighting and you give in to the neutering forces of accepted taste’.


It is consistent to oppose both uses of the animal.

Moreover, 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.

Animals can be used to enhance the quality of human life

Activities involving the hunting or performance of animals are often large scale social activities. The Grand National for example has an audience of 153,000 paying spectators at the event[1] and a further 600 million in 140 countries watch it on television.[2] They can invoke themes of struggle and competition that serve to bring communities together in a shared experience.

[1] Pwc, ‘Attendances rise at UK’s biggest annual sporting events’, 4 August 2011.

[2] Aintree, ‘Broadcasting the Grand National’.


If animal suffering is equal to human suffering then the benefits of exploiting animals in this way are only appropriate if it would also be appropriate to use a mentally disabled human in the same way.


Aintree, ‘Broadcasting the Grand National’,

BBC Ethics guide, ‘The ethics of speciesism’,

British Horseracing Authority, ‘Whip use and specification’, 2011,

Cohan , C., ‘The case of the use of animals in biomedical research’, The New England Journal of Medicine, Vol. 315, No 14. 1986

Elms, Robert, ‘End bullfighting and you give in to the neutering forces of accepted taste’, Independent, 31 July 2010,

Francione, Gary, ‘The animal rights debate: abolition or regulation?’ Nature, 14 November 2010.

Hickman, Martin ‘Victory in the campaign to ban circus animals’, Independent, 24 June 2011,

Konner, Melvin, ‘Unique. Sort of.’, American Scientist, September-October 2009,

Posner, Richard A, and Singer Peter, ‘Animal Rights debate between peter Singer & Richard Posner’, Slate, June 2001,

Potočnik, ‘Written answer on behalf of the Commission’, Europees parlement, 29 July 2011,

Pwc, ‘Attendances rise at UK’s biggest annual sporting events’, 4 August 2011,

Timiraos, Nick, ‘The Race Where Horses Die’, The Wall Street Journal, 11 August 2007,

Wikipedia, ‘Suicide Race’, accessed 30 November 2011