(BULLFIGHTING) SPAIN— Bullfighting has been a cultural tradition throughout Spain for centuries. However, legislation in Catalonia has sent the merciless practice to its grave with the last bullfight on Sunday. Pressure by animal rights activists partially influenced the decision to banish bullfighting. We at Global Animal recognize bullfighting as nothing more than torture and are pleased to know that these noble creatures won’t be forced into “battle” against humans any longer. — Global Animal
The New York Times, Raphael Minder
The Catalonia region of Spain bade farewell to bullfighting on Sunday with a corrida in Barcelona’s Monumental bullring featuring José Tomás, probably the country’s most popular matador.
After putting to death their respective bulls in front of a sell-out crowd in the 20,000-seat arena, Mr Tomás, along with another bullfighter Serafín Marín, were carried shoulder high from the ring into the streets by ecstatic fans. Others, meanwhile, invaded the ring to gather some of its sand as a souvenir of the final fight, which follows a vote last year by the Catalan regional Parliament to ban bullfighting
But such scenes of enthusiasm for bullfighting are no longer the norm these days in Spain. Not only have animal rights activists increased pressure to outlaw the fights — as was the case in Catalonia — but bullfighting is also confronting a financial crisis that has forced public subsidy cuts to local venues that once relied on them.
The number of bullfights held in Spain has fallen by just over a third since the onset of the financial crisis — to 1,724 last year from 2,622 in 2007, according to government data. For the month of August alone, the drop over the same period was 50 percent, underlining the extent to which smaller, debt-saddled towns have abandoned the bullfighting spectacle that was long the highlight of their summer festivities but that they can no longer afford.
The woes of the bullfighting business have also been acutely felt in the countryside, where bull breeders are enduring the same boom-and-bust situation that has unfolded in Spain’s property sector. In fact, many of the newcomers to bull breeding are also construction entrepreneurs, who often bought farming land for its gentrified status.
“The number of farms grew in an uncontrolled manner,” said Carlos Núñez, president of the Unión de Criadores de Toros de Lidia an association that represents 367 bull breeders across Spain. The resulting oversupply means that, if not close to bankruptcy, “many of them are now up for sale,” he said.
Leopoldo de la Maza, who has a farm near Morón de la Frontera, in Andalusia, forecast that “next year will be for sure as hard as this year, if not worse, because we already have to absorb with this year’s excess supply” of bulls. He added: “A lot of bulls will just have to stay out on the field, which in economic terms is a disaster.”
A four-year-old bull sent to the slaughterhouse earned a breeder about 450 euros, or $605, he said, instead of at least €6,000 if the bull met its death in Madrid or another major bull ring.
Another leading Andalusian breeder, who spoke only on condition of anonymity saying he did not want the attention from other breeders, suggested that Spain follow Portugal’s example in order to ease public concerns about animal cruelty. In Portugal, the bull is killed after the corrida — out of spectators’ sight — rather than fought to death in the ring.
“We need to change before this crisis wipes us out and modern society imposes in any case change upon us,” he said.
However important traditions, he added, the sector has reformed before, notably in the 1920s when horses were provided with protective gear to prevent a goring. “People got sick of seeing horses agonize and we’re here to show spectators what they actually want to see,” the breeder said.
The decision by Catalan lawmakers to ban bullfighting was also part of a nationalist push there to separate the region from Spain. However, the Catalan ban has allowed activists to intensify their campaign against killing bulls — also outside the ring. This month, protesters gathered in central Madrid to condemn an annual feast held in the town of Tordesillas, during which the bull is speared to death.
Traditional bullfighting, meanwhile, has also come under pressure outside Spain. In May, Ecuadoreans voted in a referendum to forbid killing bulls in the ring, as part of a wider initiative by President Rafael Correa to clamp down on activities involving cruelty to animals.
Still, many fighters condemn such political interference in an essential part of the cultural patrimony. “We should make the fight as attractive as possible, probably raise the rhythm, but not abandon respect for our traditions and roots,” said Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez, a fourth-generation bullfighter, who rejected a recent offer to fight in Quito following the Ecuadorian vote.
Instead, “much can be done to develop our narrow and antiquated image,” he added, since “the advertising potential of bullfighting is enormous.”
Mr. Rivera is well-placed to know: he is also a model who has been featured in ad campaigns for Giorgio Armani and Loewe.
Meanwhile, a key argument voiced by breeders — that vast pastures help maintain farming and the countryside unspoilt — has been turned against them by some lawmakers in the European Parliament, who oppose channeling European Union farm subsidies toward sustaining a practice that is forbidden in several E.U. member states.
“It’s really hard to justify taxing an anti-bullfighting country like the U.K. so as to subsidize the raising of fighting bulls in Spain, which is what happens in the E.U. and should probably be stopped — and I say that as a bullfighter,” said Alexander Fiske-Harrison, a British aficionado who is a qualified torero as well as author of a book on bullfighting.
In fact, however, the political headwinds that have recently battered bullfighting could ease within Spain after a general election Nov. 20.
Opinion polls indicate the center-right Popular Party will return to power, after eight years of Socialist government under Prime Minister José Luis Rodríguez Zapatero. The Popular Party has challenged the Catalan ban in court, while also spearheading efforts to make bullfighting part of the national cultural patrimony, akin to its status in France. Cultural activities in Spain also benefit from lower value-added taxation — 8 percent compared to the 18 percent that has been applied to bullfighting events.
Furthermore, a government change could pave the way for the return of bullfighting on national television, according to Rubén Amón, a writer who has also acted as spokesman for a group of leading bullfighters. National television coverage was abandoned in 2006, during Mr. Zapatero’s first term in office, largely due to commercial reasons in order to focus instead on bidding for more popular events such as soccer matches. Still, the state-controlled broadcaster, RTVE, enshrined the ban last January, arguing that showing bullfights risked exposing children to violence against animals.
‘‘I don’t want bullfighting so closely linked to politics, but there’s no doubt that Popular Party’s return would be great news,’’ Mr. Amón said. ‘‘It will restore some balance to a society that has become more horrified by the death of an animal than a woman.’’
A Popular Party victory could provide ‘‘a decade-long reprieve’’ for bullfighting, said Isaki Lacuesta, a movie director. Beyond that, however, ‘‘modern society is likely to force its disappearance,’’ he predicted. ‘‘Times change, just as they did for fox-hunting in Britain or even smoking in bars.’’