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BULLFIGHTING

Spain mulls ‘no kill bullfights’ in nod to animal rights

The eastern city of Valencia could consider introducing a form of bullfighting in which the bull is not killed by the matador in the ring.

Spain mulls 'no kill bullfights' in nod to animal rights
Spanish matador Alberto López Simon in Madrid in October. Photo: AFP

As debate rages as to the future of bullfighting in Spain, the mayor of its third largest city proposed doing away with the tradition in favour of “bullfighting light”. 

Joan Ribó, the left-wing mayor from the Podemos backed regional Compromís party, suggested that Valencia consider adopting the Portuguese style of corrida, which ends the confrontation between man and beast before the inevitable sword through the heart of the bull.

Such a “synthesis” would preserve the cultural traditions of the fiesta yet still respect the animal’s life, the mayor said at a conference on Monday, the day after thousands of aficionados took to the streets of Valencia to show their support for Spain’s “national fiesta”.


Thousands turned out for the pro-bullfighting rally in Valencia. Photo: AFP

Bullfighters joined the ranks of some 10,000 bullfighting supporters on Sunday to demand that their passion be given “cultural protection”.

But the mayor of Valencia insisted it was time Spain reconsidered staging public festivals that involved cruelty to animals.

“There are more and more people understanding that mistreating animals is a practice that must be eradicated from our society,” explained Ribó in comments reported widely in the Spanish press.

“I think it could be interesting if we in Spain could find a way in which the bulls did not get that final treatment (in the ring),” he said.

However, animal rights activists insisted that even the Portuguese style of bullfighting was cruel and just prolonged the “agony and torture” of the bulls, which are usually slaughtered by butchers outside the bullring after the fight.

Pacma, a political party campaigning for animal rights flatly rejected the suggestion that “no kill bullfights” was a step forward.

“The mayor fails to recognise that the bulls are still stabbed with the barbed darts (banderillas) before being eventually killed out if sight of the public, thus prolonging their agony,” said a statement from Pacma to The Local.

“The only acceptable proposal is to ban all kinds of anachronistic spectacles that provides entertainment based on cruelty to animals.”

Support for bullfighting has been on the wane in Spain in recent years but thousands of local festivals which stage taurine activities still take place across the country each year.

According to a recent survey by Spain’s Ministry of Culture, just 8.5 percent of Spaniards go to a bullfight annually.

Six years ago the regional Catalan government banned 'corridas' or bullfighting in the region.

Some cities newly run by leftist administrations, including Madrid and Valencia, also recently cut subsidies for bullfighting.

In Portugal killing a bull in the ring was outlawed in 1928 yet bullfighting still remains popular, although bullfighters there complain about being denied the final kill.

“Bullfighting in Portugal is like a play with the ending missing,” Portugal’s most famous bullfighter Pedrito de Portugal told the New York Times after being fined €100,000 for killing a bull in the ring in 2007.

“Killing the bull is an art, and the way we do it in Portugal deprives the bull of his dignity,” he said.

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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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