Bullfighting in Spain: A barbaric sport or an iconic tradition?

The recent verdicts have drawn criticism and anger from the anti-bullfighting lobby.  /CGTN

The recent verdicts have drawn criticism and anger from the anti-bullfighting lobby. /CGTN

The recent verdicts have drawn criticism and anger from the anti-bullfighting lobby. /CGTN

A recent Spanish Supreme Court ruling classifies bullfighting as part of Spain’s “cultural heritage,” juxtaposing the country’s oldest and most controversial spectacle alongside creative art forms such as flamenco dance, theatre, art and live music.

The ruling opened the way for the use of the “youth culture voucher” for bullfighting, adding fuel to the fire of an age-old cultural conflict.


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The vouchers, worth 400 euros ($422), will be given to 18-year-olds on their birthdays in Spain in hopes of rebuilding the cultural and creative industries that have suffered during the Covid pandemic.


A victory for the bullfighting industry

It’s another victory for the bullfighting industry. The government has introduced new unemployment benefits for workers in the arts sector who have been unemployed for over 60 days, people who are struggling due to the seasonality of their jobs.

Bullfighters were not included in this hardship fund, but after industry lawyers took it to Spain’s Supreme Court, the judges ruled in their favour.

“The government payments help a lot because they can finally put bullfighting on the same level as other art forms like theater or cinema and can help young people to start and stay in bullfighting,” bullfighter Javier Cortes told CGTN.

The recent rulings have drawn criticism and anger from the anti-bullfighting lobby, who say this is a declining industry that already receives too much money in the form of grants and other payments.

“It’s getting harder and harder to be a bullfighter”

But Cortes says that with the anti-bullfighting lobby’s waning popularity and growing power, being part of the industry isn’t easy. “It gets harder to be a bullfighter every day because society takes a different path, the values ​​of bullfighting are put aside.”

The scars on his face, where the bull’s horns pierced his skin from lip to chin and dangerously close to his right eye, are visible, but he says the injuries won’t stop him from doing what he loves.

Bullfighting industry officials claim that it still contributes significantly to the Spanish economy. It is responsible for over 50,000 jobs directly and indirectly for over 140,000.

Opponents say the industry already receives too much funding through agricultural breeding subsidies, grants from the EU and support from regional governments.


“A cruel and unethical activity”

The anti-bullfighting lobby in Spain has grown louder and more powerful over the years and many Spaniards have turned away from tradition.

“81 percent of young Spaniards are not proud to make bullfighting their national heritage,” Marta Estaban, president of anti-bullfighting platform Torture Is Not a Culture, told CGTN. “It’s an activity that is cruel and unethical and should just go away. I think it’s better to help those who create a non-cruel, non-violent culture that the world and Spain should look forward to,” she added.

“They should retrain people from this industry as it is no longer profitable, that would be a better use of that money.”

Data from the Spanish Ministry of Culture shows that in the 10 years before the pandemic, the number of bullfights organized in Spain fell by almost half, from over 2,500 to just under 1,500.

Gayle Allard, an economics professor at IE Business School in Madrid, explains how seasonal jobs leave people out of work for months.

“In Spain it’s a particularly seasonal economy due to tourism and agriculture and of course cultural activities are linked to the tourism sector – this is another attempt to give people a little more financial security.”

Significant decrease in numbers

This new government payment could be a major revenue stream for an industry that only runs from late spring through late summer. However, despite a significant drop in numbers, there are still some hugely popular festivals in the industry such as the Pamplona Bull Run or the annual San Isidro festival in Madrid.

The tens of millions of tourists who visit the country and want to experience the typical Spanish spectacle also bring in a lot of money for the industry. Bullfighting generates over $1.6 billion in all related sectors, but it is a divisive issue that has also been heavily politicized, another issue dividing the “two Spains”.

Many on the right of the political divide believe it is an important symbol of Spain, an ancient pre-Roman tradition worth protecting. While voices on the left say it is a barbaric practice that must be handed over to history.

Depending on who you ask in Spain, bullfighting is either a dying sport or an iconic Spanish tradition that is here to stay.

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