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Bullfighting Banned in Catalonia | Animal Rights Campaigners Celebrate as Spain's Most Emblematic Sport is Banned by Catalan Parliament
Animal rights campaigners celebrate as Spain's most emblematic sport is banned by Catalan parliament
* Giles Tremlett
o Giles Tremlett in Madrid
o guardian.co.uk, Wednesday 28 July 2010 19.56 BST
Bullfight: Matador performs a pass on a bull Bullfighting will cease in the Catalan region by the end of 2011. Photograph: Marcelo Del Pozo/Reuters
Its orange sands have witnessed both delight and death. Generations of matadors strutted their way across Barcelona's Monumental bullring, drawing roars of approval from the crowds as they tormented the hulking bulls with their scarlet capes before killing them with a sword-thrust between the shoulder blades.
But now bullfighting is to be banned from Barcelona and the rest of the north-eastern region of Catalonia after the local parliament today dealt a blow to Spain's most emblematic pastime and unleashed a political battle over what some see as a threatened cultural treasure.
Deputies voted by 68 to 55 in favour of a people's petition calling on the bullfight to be banished from a region that once played host to some of the world's greatest fights. The last matador in Catalan history will sink his sword into the last half-tonne fighting bull at the end of next year, with the ban starting in 2012.
"It is the worst attack on culture since our transition to democracy," said the Catalan poet Pere Gimferrer.
While some mourned the loss of a cultural jewel, the vote was hailed by animals rights campaigners worldwide. Ricky Gervais and Pamela Anderson were among the 140,000 who signed an international petition to the Catalan parliament.
"It sickens me to know that people are still paying money to see an animal suffering in such a horrific way," Gervais said before the vote. About 13,500 fighting bulls die in Spain every year – many in bullfights funded by local authorities who are estimated to pay out up to €550m (£457m) in subsidies.
In Spain, critics pointed to dark, if barely-disguised, political motives. Bullfight fans claimed many Catalan nationalist deputies had voted out of spite, because the fighting bull is an emblem of Spain – where it is known as the "national fiesta" – rather than of Catalonia.
The local El Periódico newspaper reported that several nationalist deputies had decided to back the ban only after Spain's constitutional court struck down parts of the region's 2006 autonomy charter earlier this month. At least 430,000 people, or 6% of all Catalans, protested on 10 July in Barcelona against the court's decision ,which declared Catalonia was not legally a nation.
Just as Britain's foxhunting ban mixed animal rights with class politics, so the bullfight ban brought together animal welfare and Catalan identity politics, local commentators agreed. "Some of our people will back the ban on the basis that if they are going to sink our charter, we will sink their bulls," a regional deputy from the Convergence and Union nationalist coalition told El Periódico.
Animal rights campaigners were upset that identity politics had been brought to play. "The issue is a moral one, not a nationalist one," said Dr Salvador Giner, head of the Catalan Studies Institute in Barcelona. "Bear-baiting was suppressed long ago and this is the same logic. Are we a modern nation, or are we going back to the middle ages?"
Dr Giner said the bullfight had a long history in Catalonia. "But it is a barbarous tradition." He also denounced those who voted against bullfighting but protected the correbous, a form of bull-taunting popular in village fiestas in southern Catalonia. "That should be banned as well, even if politicians lose votes. That would be consistent."
In recent years the matador José Tomás – beloved of many Spanish leftwing intellectuals and artists – had brought fresh life to the Monumental bullring but in general the bullfight has been in decline in Catalonia for decades. There is only one major ring functioning in Barcelona, with just 15 fights a year. The city's other emblematic bullring, Las Arenas, is being turned into a shopping arcade, following a redesign by Britain's Lord Rogers.
"There was never a strong tradition of bullfighting there anyway, they do not breed bulls," said Frank Evans, the Salford-born veteran British bullfighter. "It is like Devon staging Rugby League games."
Bullfight campaigners said the ban would cost €300m in lost revenues, and argue that the fight was an art form, rather than a cruel bloodsport.
"This is dictatorship," the Catalan bullfighter Serafín Marín said. "It is not a cruel show. It is a show that creates art: where you get feelings and a fight between a bull and person, where the person or the bull can lose their life."
Others saw a sinister attack on people's freedom to choose their own pastimes. "It is an attack on liberty," said Fernando Masedo, president of the International Federation of Bullfighting Schools, where children and youths learn how to face an angry bull. "People are free to go or not go to the bullring."
A petition calling for the ban to be extended to the capital of Madrid, home to the world's most famous bull-ring, Las Ventas, has 50,000 signatures. But there is little prospect of success.
The regional government, like that of Valencia, has declared the bull-fight to be a part of its "protected cultural patrimony".
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