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Forget the Catalan ban, bullfighting was already in trouble

La corrida’s commercial viability is questionable and its shaky credibility undermines those who step into the ring.


José Tomás evens up the odds.

In Catalonia, the last bull has been killed by a matador’s sword. In January, a ban on bullfighting takes effect in the region and Sunday’s corrida in La Monumental bullring was the last of the season, and, probably, the last ever.

There is still the possibility that an appeal against the ban will flourish, although a ruling is still a long way off, but fans and opponents of bullfighting behaved as if Sunday marked the end of an era.

The Catalan ruling is indeed a landmark, although a ban has been in place in the Canary Islands for two decades. However, given the tangle of regional politics that lay behind Catalonia’s decision, it seems unlikely there will be a rash of similar bans across the country. Nonetheless, as someone who knows little about bullfighting and who has been to only a handful of corridas, it seems to me that the fiesta is in trouble.

The first, most obvious reason for this is a sheer lack of interest on the part of Spaniards. Who goes to bullfights these days? Tourists and pensioners, for the most part. Some younger Spaniards can be spotted in bullrings, but there aren’t hordes of them queuing up for tickets. Football, TV, the internet – the usual suspects – seem to be to blame. Barcelona has three bullrings, but La Monumental was the only one still hosting corridas when the ban was voted on. Disinterest, not animal rights, is killing this tradition.

But there are other, darker reasons to query the health of this cultural activity/sport/sadistic perversion (choose your own definition). Rumours of bulls’ horns being shaved before entering the ring, and even of the animals being drugged, circulate and damage the credibility of those holding the cape.

For many connoisseurs, the quality of the bulls used further undermines what is supposed to be a “noble tradition”. For work reasons, I went to a novillada (a junior bullfight, with young toreros and small bulls) in Barcelona’s La Monumental in May. The public in the half-empty bullring booed two of the animals, which staggered around, bewildered, for much of their time on the sand. One of them tripped over its own feet, injured its neck and could not stand up. It was killed there on the spot, with a knife to the brain, before the torero had faced a whiff of danger.

This kind of spectacle might explain the appeal of José Tomás, the country’s star bullfighter, who has been repeatedly gored, most famously last year in Mexico, where he nearly died. Many query Tomás’s technique, but you can’t fault his willingness to put his life on the line. With the odds so firmly set against the bull, despite all the nonsense spouted about “man against beast”, Tomás’s recklessness makes things look somewhat fairer.

But I can’t help feeling that there is something of the freak show in bullfighting these days. The young man who camped out for several nights to buy the first ticket to Sunday’s final corrida in Barcelona was clearly dedicated, but he admitted to not even being a bullfighting fan. He simply wanted to experience a historic moment. Not knowing a good matador’s pass from a bad one, presumably the only thing that would have impressed him would have been to see a spectacular goring.

So bullfighting is dying and it’s not even the animal rights campaigners who are doing the damage. Its credibility and commercial viability are stumbling and staggering, like confused beasts in the ring.  It’s only a matter of time before the sword is driven through their hearts.

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Published: Sep 28 2011
Category: Iberoblog, Featured, Spain News
Republication: Creative Commons, non-commercial
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5 Comments for “Forget the Catalan ban, bullfighting was already in trouble”

  1. No real surprise that what is essentially choreography with an angry psychopath as a partner is not holding the interest of the young. But the common complaint among the aging diehards is that the fighting quality of the bulls has declined markedly over the last 15 years. Oddly similar to the trade unions, that…

  2. You are right, you know nothing about bullfighting. The various communities who have recently hosted bullfighting have seen millions and millions of euros pumped into their coffers – over three million in the region that banned it – Catalunya, people desperate to see Jose Tomas and over two million euros in the Comunidad Valenciana. If you would like to find out more how bullfighting is fighting back I suggest you read blogs written by people who know like:


    • Looking at the facts and figures, I don’t see bullfighting making a comeback. In 2007, 2,600 bullfights were held in Spain, in 2010 only 1,700 were held. Even bullfighter Cayetano Rivera Ordóñez said recently: “Young people don’t go to bullfights…we have come to a standstill and we’re not reaching the next generations.”

  3. It’s quite clear the writer does not understand the corrida and relies on second hand information. It would have been better if he had written about something else. Bullfighting is still alive and well. Go to La Maestranza and there will be children there, excited as anyone else. Bullfighting isn’t going anyplace!!!

  4. Just another non Spaniard pontificating about what is Spain and what isn’t…bullfighting is dying pah It’s got a new lease of life, get your facts right!!!!

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