In a Lagos stadium, a troubling event unfolds: a ram fighting tournament. Here, rams are not just animals but unwilling participants in a sport that raises significant ethical questions. This exclusive event, reserved for ram owners and select viewers, isn’t just a show; it’s a beloved hobby with a twist of gambling.
The tournament has its own set of norms, akin to the weight classes in human sports like boxing. Rams, which naturally compete for dominance, are here to demonstrate their prowess as part of a sporting event. Without any formal regulatory body, the welfare of these animals is solely in the hands of their owners.
Today, the stadium hosts around 100 spectators and 70 rams ready to compete. The owners are quick to point out that this isn’t a brutal sport; the rams don’t fight to their death, and injuries are a rarity. Among them is Olalekan Ogunlaja, a 39-year-old ram enthusiast, with more than a decade’s experience and over 10 rams under his care.
From Streets to Stadiums
The roots of this practice can be traced back to the 1980s and 1990s Lagos, where youngsters would parade their rams during Eid-el-Kabir, leading to impromptu head-butting matches. Ogunlaja insists the sport is far from cruel, likening the care of his rams to that given to racehorses, and compares the competitions to boxing.
Olalekan defends the sport from criticism: “A lot of people complain that ram fighting is animal cruelty, but to us we do have our own rules, if we are doing our competition and there’s any blood dropped or any bloodshed, we do stop the competition… people don’t complain about that boxing own.”
The Sport’s Intricacies
Each ram in the tournament has its own unique name, much like racehorses, with examples being ‘Smallie’, ‘Desperado’, and ‘Little Taskforce’. The rules are clear: in standard matches, a ram can deliver up to 30 ‘blows’, while in high-stake betting matches, this number can exceed 70 before a tie is declared. Animal rights activists have long called for a ban on the sport, but its enthusiasts defend it as a legitimate form of competition.
Adeniyi Adekunle-Michael, a spectator, sees it as a fun activity: “This is just something that we take as fun. A lot of people don’t have the time to go and play football or anything, a lot of people don’t even like watching football or basketball or whatever. But this is something that you can watch in live. This is the opportunity just to catch some fun at your leisure hour.”
Ilias Ajuwon, another fan, echoes the sentiment: “It’s something we derive pleasure from. So, we can’t do without it. It’s something that is part of us. Every Sunday we have to go to different places to watch our rams fight.”