Balearic Islands ban blood and death in the bullring

The Balearic regional parliament has voted in a raft of new measures that overhaul bullfights and ensure that no animals are hurt in the spectacle.

Balearic Islands ban blood and death in the bullring
Matador Sebastian Castella performs a pass on a bull during San Fermin Festival in Pamplona. Photo: AFP

The new legislation, passed on Monday, effectively brings an end to the traditional bullfight on the islands by imposing strict limitations on what can take place in the ring.

Rather than an outright ban such as was brought in by the regional government of Catalonia, where bullfighting is now outlawed, the law backed by a left-wing coalition prohibits the killing of an animal in the ring.

Instead bulls will be limited to spending just ten minutes in the ring and all sharp implements, such as the pica and bandarilla, are banned.

Matadors will only be allowed to use the capote and muleta, two types of bullfighting capes, to interact with the fighting bulls, which will then be returned to their ranch uninjured at the end of the evening.

Photo: AFP

The law will require that participating bulls, which must be at east four-years-old, are examined by a vet to ensure their physical and psychological well-being and that both they and the matadors undergo drugs tests.

The legislation was supported by a left-wing collection that includes the Socialists (PSOE), regional group More for Mallorca and the anti-austerity party Podemos.

Spain’s government has opposed the new legistation arguing that it goes against the constitution and powers of the state.

Bullfighting was declared part of Spain’s cultural heritage in national laws introduced in 2013 and 2015 by the conservative Popular Party (PP) government of Mariano Rajoy.

Catalonia introduced a ban on bullfighting in 2010 for animal cruelty reasons but the law was overturned by Spain’s Constitutional Court last year.

Support for bullfighting has waned in recent years with demonstrations against the tradition regularly attracting thousands of participants.

Photo: AFP

recent poll showed that fewer that in one in four people in Spain have any interest in it. And that same survey also found some 60 percent of 18 to 24-year-olds are in favour of a ban on the activity.

Humane Society International/Europe applauds the Balearic Islands Parliament’s decision.

Joanna Swabe of animal rights group Humane Society International, was in Mallorca for the vote and applauded the result.

“Taunting and killing bulls for entertainment is a brutal anachronism and so this is a very satisfying victory for compassionate policy making,” she said. 

“This vote shows that a full ban is not strictly necessary to end the practice of bullfighting, and that compassion can win the day where there is strong public and political will to end animal cruelty.

“Around 30 towns across the Balearic Islands had already voiced their opposition to bullfighting and so this measure to halt both bullfights and bull fiestas enjoys the broad support of both locals and the international community alike.”

But opponents of the law, such as Spain's ruling Popular Party (PP), say the ruling is still illegal and could be challenged in the courts.   

Miquel Jerez, PP spokesman in the regional parliament, said it was just another way to ban bullfighting by “distorting its essential characteristics in order to render the show unrecognisable.”

The only other Spanish region to have successfully banned bullfighting is the Canary Islands, and Castile and Leon in Spain's northwest abolished the killing of bulls at town festivals last year.

Several cities have also put a stop to corridas or annual festivals with bull running over the years.

But other traditions continue to take place, such as placing flammable balls on the horns of bulls, setting them on fire and letting the animals loose in the street.

Photo: AFP


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

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.