Two injured during ‘running of the balls’ fiesta

It may have seemed like a less dangerous pursuit than being chased through narrow cobbled streets by a pack of half-tonne angry bulls, but the humane alternative to running with the bulls staged by one Madrid town this weekend, claimed its fair share of casualties.

Two injured during ‘running of the balls’ fiesta
Boloencierro sees participants being ‘chased’ down the sloping streets of Mataelpino by huge balls rolling at great speed. Photo: Ayuntamiento Elboalo-Cerceda-Mataelpino

One man was left in a coma after being thwacked round the head by a giant rolling ball and another was hospitalized with three broken ribs after the annual festival in Mataelpino.

Video footage captured the moment of the worst injury, when a man was crushed between the ball and metal fencing lining the streets.

The town has been staging  its ‘cruelty-free’ alternative to the more common encierros for seven years using 200kg polistirene balls coated with a thick layer of resin and then painted with images of bulls.

But after the spate of injuries, the mayor of the town has promised a review of security measures.

“People who are used to bulls know that they can’t just stand still in front of them because they could be gored. But with the ball some people think that nothing will happen to them, but this is not the case. If they get a direct hit, it can be serious,” the mayor, Javier Pérez de los Nietos, told El Pais.

“We are going to review all of our security measures and boost the information given out because people have started coming here from all over the world. We don’t want this to become a tragic event, but rather something fun,” he said.

A message on the town hall website reported that the injured man remained in a critical but stable condition 72 hours after being knocked to the ground on Saturday.

Mataelpino, a small community of no more than 1,700 residents just outside the Spanish capital, was the first place in the country to hold a ‘running of the balls’, an event that has caught on in other pueblos across Spain.

Dubbed boloencierro, a made-up up term which combines the Spanish words for bowling ball and running of the bulls, the event sees participants being ‘chased’ down the sloping streets of Mataelpino by huge balls rolling at great speed.

The festival costs a fraction of the price to stage in comparison with the usual taurine events and Mataelpino has seen a rise in tourism numbers as a result.

It has also been championed by animal rights activists as a humane and just as fun alternative.



PETA offers cash to ban Pamplona’s famous running of the bulls forever

With the news last week that the Spanish city of Pamplona in Navarra has been forced to cancel its bull running fiesta for the second year running due to the Covid crisis, animal rights activists have seized on the opportunity to call for it to be banned permanently.

PETA offers cash to ban Pamplona’s famous running of the bulls forever
A shot from the encierro on July 7th 2019. Photo: AFP

PETA are writing to the mayor of Pamplona with the offer of €298,000 if the Navarran city ceases the use of bulls during their fiesta altogether.

“People around the world, including in Spain, say it’s past time the torment and slaughter of animals for human entertainment were stopped,” says PETA founder Ingrid Newkirk in her appeal to Pamplona mayor, Enrique Maya.

“Now is the moment to be on the right side of history. We hope you will accept our offer and allow Pamplona to reinvent itself for the enjoyment of all.”

Each morning during the eight day festival of San Fermin in Pamplona, which bursts into celebration at midday on July 6th, six fighting bulls and six steers are released to run through the narrow streets of the old town to the bullring where the bulls are killed in the evening corridas.

Hundreds run alongside the animals in the morning dash which often results in gorings, and injuries from being stomped on after runners lose their footing in the crowds.

The festival, which was made world famous by Ernest Hemingway, who set his 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises” during San Fermin, attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors to the party each year.

The festival, which sees Pamplona’s population swell from just under 200,000 to more than a million, is estimated to bring an annual boost of €74 million to Pamplona businesses, according to an association of fighting bull breeders.

PETA’s offer is the latest in a long campaign to ban what it calls “Pamplona’s annual bloodbath”.

Together with Spanish groupAnimaNaturalis, the activists stage peaceful protests ahead of the start of the festival year.

The city’s former mayor, Joseba Asirón, supported the protests, describing them as “fair and honest”.

Speaking to reporters about the groups’ calls to remove bull runs from the festival, he said, “[T]his is a debate that sooner or later we will have to put on the table. For a very simple reason, and that is that basing the festival on the suffering of a living being, in the 21st century, is something that, at best, we have to rethink.”

Since the pandemic began festivals across Spain have been cancelled but corridas were allowed last summer with limited occupancy and with social distancing and Covid-19 measures in place.

But although Spain’s bullfighting lobby is strong, there is a general trend away from it.

In a poll published in 2019 by online newspaper El Español, over 56 percent of Spaniards said they were against bullfighting, while only 24.7 were in favour. Some 18.9 percent said they were indifferent.

Support was significantly higher among conservative voters, it showed.