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MUSLIM

Sheikh to turn bullring into mega-mosque

Sheikh Tamim bin Hamad Al Thani, the ruling Emir of Qatar, has reportedly offered to invest €2.2 billion ($3 billion) over five years to convert Barcelona's Monumental bullring into a 40,000-capacity mosque which would be the biggest in Europe.

Sheikh to turn bullring into mega-mosque
The bullring, which once hosted concerts by The Beatles and The Rolling Stones, has been largely unused since Catalonia's 2010 bullfighting ban. Photo: Sergi Larripa

The planned mosque, featuring a 300m minaret would be the third-largest in the world outside Mecca and Medina, and would include a conference hall, a 300-capacity Koran study centre and a museum of Islamic art and history.

Monumental was opened in 1914 and became famous as a venue for bullfighting and music concerts. The Beatles, The Rolling Stones, Bob Marley and Bruce Springsteen have all played there. No bullfights have been held at Monumental since the activity was banned by the Catalan regional government in 2010 and the building is now used as a bullfighting museum.

Spanish daily 20 Minutos reported via sources close to the project that the building's current owners, the Balaña Group, had already agreed the sale and that the next stage would be to secure the agreement of the city council. The Balaña group have not, however, confirmed this.

Despite its sizeable Muslim community, Barcelona is the only major European city that does not have a mosque.

Mowafak Kanfach, owner of Barcelona's Arabic Book Shop, told 20 Minutos, "The law says that everyone has the right to pray in a dignified place, not in a commercial premises."

"Locals would have to be proud that Muslims transformed the pain of the bulls into a spiritual centre," he added.

"It would be a great tourist attraction."

A number of mosques have been planned in Barcelona in recent years but none have reached the construction stage.

In 2004, Barcelona council entered discussions over converting the city's other bullring, Las Arenas, into a mosque, which would have been funded by Saudi Arabia, but the plan was shelved and the building became a shopping centre.

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MADRID

How the pandemic has put the careers of Spain’s trainee bullfighters on hold

Cries of "Toro, toro!" echo round the empty stands at Madrid's world-famous bullring where two young apprentice bullfighters have seen their promising careers abruptly halted by the pandemic.

How the pandemic has put the careers of Spain's trainee bullfighters on hold
Photo: GABRIEL BOUYS / AFP

Wearing a tracksuit, trainers and an FFP2 mask, 22-year-old Alvaro Burdiel holds out his vibrant fuchsia-and-mustard cape in front of him. With his arms rigid and shoulders proud, he has the gesture down to a tee.

A bullfighting hopeful, he already experienced one triumphal entry through the main gate at Madrid’s Las Ventas bullring, borne on the shoulders of his supporters in October 2019 — a matador’s greatest honour.

Right now, he doesn’t know when he’ll be back in the ring again, but he hasn’t missed one of his daily classes on the ochre-coloured sand inside this historic venue in the heart of the Spanish capital.

“We all have ups and downs. But that’s where the passion shows through – in persevering,” he says. “In those moments, that’s what makes you stand out from the rest: not giving up.”

‘Decisive years’

A little further away is 19-year-old Guillermo Garcia who was lucky enough to be chosen to fight on May 2nd in the first bullfight to be put on at Las Ventas in 18 months.

Wearing a sage green t-shirt, he twitches his cape slightly, catching the sand in a bid to provoke the beast in front of him.

But there is no bull today – only a fellow student gripping a pair of horns. His back hunched and breathing heavily, he lunges forward with everything he’s got.

On this April afternoon, there are about 20 young students tirelessly running through the choreography of the bullfight.

Trainee bullfighters at Madrid’s Las Ventas. Photo by Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

At one side stands a “carreton”, a bulls head mounted on a wheelbarrow-like contraption that can also be used to simulate the charge.

The teachers try to keep their students’ enthusiasm up, despite the uncertainties hanging over the season, which normally runs from March to October but was cancelled last year because of the pandemic.

In the southern city of Seville, which is also known for its love of bullfighting, all the events planned for mid-April had to be cancelled due to virus restrictions.

At Las Ventas, the school is run by famed former matador José Pedro Prados, popularly known as El Fundi.

“Slowly! Don’t lift your heel until the last moment, move from the waist – that’s it!” he calls. “We take them to ranches to keep their spirits up and maintain their enthusiasm,” he says.

“Bullfighting schools are having a really hard time” because of the restrictions put in place due to the virus, he adds.

“There were youngsters who were at their peak when everything shut down. And this could end up halting them in their tracks because these are decisive years for many people’s careers.”

Teen in the arena

The stands are deserted except for a handful of workers repainting the barriers ahead of Sunday’s reopening.

Closed since October 2019, Las Ventas managed to get the authorisation to hold a bullfight on Sunday with just 6,000 spectators in an arena that normally holds 44,000.

On the bill are stars like El Juli and Enrique Ponce alongside the young Guillermo Garcia, who is listed as a novillero, or novice matador. Still a teenager, Garcia has got this far thanks to his sheer dedication, says El Fundi.

Trainee bullfighter in Madrid. Photo: Gabriel BOUYS / AFP

“Since the beginning… there’s always been something different about him, he is serious, he has a lot of strength and enthusiasm and he’s always been very committed to training.”

But Garcia admits he’s had moments of doubt over the past year. “It’s been very hard because you didn’t know if you’d ever get the chance to prove yourself after all this training. But I told myself that sooner or later they were going to reopen the bullrings and that one day I’d get my chance to perform.”

And Sunday won’t be easy, admits the youngster who is studying business management.

“It’s going to be difficult when I go out to fight and see people wearing masks, seated apart and with the stands half empty.”

There also won’t be any triumphal entry through the main gate with the victorious matador carried on the shoulders of his supporters because of restrictions on gatherings.

“That’s just the way it is,” he sighs. “But the bull doesn’t care about the pandemic, it’s all the same to him.”

Even if the health crisis drags on longer than expected, there is no shortage of eager students keen to show off their skill.

One is six-year-old Nico. It’s “practice bullfighting,” he explains very seriously as he dances around the sand in a cape, wielding his miniature sword.

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