One gored, four hurt on first day of Spain’s divisive bull run

One person was gored and four others injured on Saturday at the first running of the bulls in this year's San Fermin festival at Pamplona, one of Spain's best-loved but increasingly scrutinised traditions.

One gored, four hurt on first day of Spain's divisive bull run
Photo: AFP

One person was gored and four others injured on Saturday at the first running of the bulls in this year's San Fermin festival at Pamplona, one of Spain's best-loved traditions.

The week-long event kicked off on Friday with the midday firing of the traditional chupinazo firework rocket on the city hall balcony as revellers descended on Pamplona in the northern Navarra region for an event dating back more than 700 years.

But the first run – where bulls charge runners through narrow cobbled streets – only began on Saturday morning and already five were wounded, Red Cross officials said, adding that one of them was gored.

The streets were slippery due to overnight showers and some bulls became separated from the herd and took other paths. The bulls completed the 848-metre run from the corral to the bull-ring in just under three minutes.

Inigo Plaza, a tall 29-year-old automobile worker who took part in the run, said: “The important thing is to finish in one piece and to be here again tomorrow.”

“To have an animal weighing 600 kilos behind you and with all these people in the streets it's an undescribable feeling of adrenaline and excitement,” he gushed.

A reveller is tossed by a heifer bull at Pamplona main bull ring. Photo: AFP

“Taking a lot of risks for nothing”

The festival claims scores of casualties every year. In 2017, there were more than 17,000 participants and 64 were wounded. Seven of the injured had been gored.

Since 1910, 16 runners have died – the last one in 2009.

“It's taking a lot of risks for nothing,” said Raul Plaza, 37, who has run more than 130 times at San Fermin.

The run-up to this year's event has been overshadowed by reminders of the gang rape of a woman during the 2016 edition. Sexual assaults also marred previous contests.

In the central Plaza del Castillo square, town hall publicity material bore the slogan “Pamplona, a city free of sexist assaults” and city officials have launched a mobile phone app for women to use if they believe they are in danger.

Municipal employees and members of feminist associations handed out red badges shaped like hands to participants, to raise awareness of sexual violence.

This year's campaign comes in response above all to the incident that sparked national outrage two years ago when five men calling themselves “The Pack” filmed themselves having sex with an 18-year-old woman.

Thousands of Spaniards protested in April after a court sentenced them for “sexual abuse” rather than the more serious offence of “sexual assault”, a category that includes rape.

A decision to free the assailants on bail pending an appeal just prior to the start of the festival, meaning they could in theory return this year, was widely condemned.

At the 2013 San Fermin festival photos emerged of women festival-goers being groped by men.

To try to stamp out such problems this year a phone number is available 24/7 for people to report sexual violence and police will have CCTV footage to help identify the perpetrators.

Some lament that the assaults have tarnished the reputation of the whole city, taking the gloss off an event supposed to be a heap of fun washed down with large quantities of sangria.

“Elsewhere, they see us as a lawless city,” said Leire Delgado.

“There are rapes in Tenerife, in Seville … it's just that elsewhere people say nothing. In Pamplona nothing goes hidden,” she said.

Feminist collectives have tried to avoid overly focusing on the 2016 case.

“Zooming in on a sole case renders invisible other assaults,” they suggested in a pre-festival statement.


Running of the bulls: Pamplona’s San Fermin cancelled over coronavirus

Spain’s most famous running of the bulls fiesta has been cancelled this year due to the coronavirus.

Running of the bulls: Pamplona's San Fermin cancelled over coronavirus
Social distancing just wouln´t be possible at San Fermin. Photo: AFP

San Fermin is celebrated each July in the northern city of Pamplona, Navarra, but the fiesta which draws crowds of a million revellers will not be taking place this summer.

Pamplona’s city council officially announced news of the cancellation of the event on Tuesday, confirming what many regular festival goers had suspected.

The festival, which kicks off on July 6th attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors, who cram into the Navarran capital for the eight-day long non-stop party, which involves religious parades, concerts, bullfights as well as the daily ‘encierros’ or bull runs.

Each morning at 8am crowds of runners traditionally dressed in white with red pañuelos and sashes await the release of six Spanish fighting bulls and six steers, who race through the narrow cobbled streets to the bullring.

Crowds squeezed into the sqaure infront of the town hall for the chupinazo marking the start of the fiesta: Photo: AFP

Similar encierros take place in towns across the Basque region but Pamplona's San Fermin is the biggest and most famous after being immortalised in Ernest Hemingway's 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises”.

“As expected as it was, it still leaves us deeply sad,” said acting mayor Ana Elizalde when announcing the inevitable news that the festival could not be carried out with social distancing measures in place.

She was unable to say whether it might be held at a later date, given the unpredictability of the coronavirus health crisis.

“It seems complicated to celebrate San Fermin (at all) this year, but we will wait to see how events evolve”, she said.

Photo: AFP

It is not the only time in its history that the fiesta has been cancelled. It was also suspended in 1937 and 1938 during the Spanish Civil War, and had to be cancelled a third time in 1978 after a student was shot during clashes between police and protesters calling for an independent Basque region. 

Deirdre Carney, an American now living in Spain who has has attended the fiesta since childhood, said: “The last time San Fermin was called off was the year I was born. My father was there and he and his friends were holed up in their hotel for a few days to avoid the rioting.

“That was 42 years ago, and it is completely shocking to the people of Navarra and everyone who loves the festival to have this happen again. Of course everyone understands why, and that there was no other choice, but we are nonetheless very saddened. The fiesta is a celebration of life and joy, so we will return next year and it will be even more meaningful than ever.”