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Monumental, the last bull-ring standing in Barcelona
In past years, I’ve been surprised to see bull-fighting on primetime Spanish television during the summer months. Is it really still as popular as ever here?
The answer to this question depends on our definition of the word ‘here’. Spain as a whole is strongly associated with bullfighting, and for good reason: the sport goes back 1300 years (the first bullfight is said to have taken place in 711 CE, upon the occasion of King Alfonso VII’s coronation); it still draws crowds of thousands (this despite rather hefty entry fees—tickets for the shady seats at Madrid’s Plaza de Torros, where there are weekly spectacles, sell for upwards of €80); top matadors earn as much, and enjoy as much fame, as footballers; and it’s true that events, though intensely violent, are broadcast on national television during bullfighting season.
The sport is, furthermore, practised countrywide, with Madrid, Seville, Ronda, Malaga, Bilbao and Valencia considered the most important cities on the national scene. In Pamplona, July’s feast day of San Fermín is celebrated with what is perhaps the country’s most notorious bull-related event, the Running of the Bulls (participating animals are later penned until evening, when they are killed in the bullfights that take place throughout the festival). It is Andalucía, however, that is particularly famed for bullfighting; enthusiasts cite it as the home of Spain’s finest events and most enthusiastic crowds. The southern region also holds claim to the greatest number of bullrings (over 70—the largest of which, in Sevilla, has a frequently-filled capacity of 10,000) as well as the country’s oldest (in Ronda).
But despite all this evidence of the continued popularity of the traditional Spanish sport, it is not without its detractors—the loudest of which continue to hold forth from another ‘here’: Catalunya. In 2004, following a series of significant public protests and the completion of a 250,000-name petition, Barcelona’s city council declared the municipality an ‘anti-bullfighting city’—a symbolic rather than a legally-binding move that was subsequently echoed by 44 other municipalities throughout the autonomous region. Furthermore, in late December 2009, the parliament of Catalunya approved a Popular Legislative Motion (ILP) to discuss banning bullfighting. The ILP was presented to the Generalitat by the Plataforma Prou! anti-bullfighting campaign with the support of 180,000 citizen signatures from across the region (a 2006 survey conducted by the animal rights group ADDA indicated that over 70 percent of Catalans are opposed to the practice of the sport). The approval of the ILP does not constitute a ban, but does take a huge leap in that direction. Rather, it is a decision by the Generalitat to adopt the measures contained within the ILP, draft a law and debate it. The draft law is expected to be presented to the Generalitat by spring 2010 for a final vote by the summer.
Though criticised by many as stemming solely from anti-Spain, nationalist sentiments, Catalan activists and politicians have named the clear animal rights violations, public violence (two spectators were killed at separate street bullfights in 2008) and questionable morality of the sport as the reasoning behind the movement to ban bullfighting from these cities altogether (were it included under existing Spanish legislation on cruelty to animals, from which it is, strangely, currently exempt, bullfighting could not be considered legal).