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Bullfighting - To Ban or Not to Ban? PDF

by Paul Whitelock, Philip Edge and Serafina Clarke

alt  Olive Country Life magazine, November 2009



Bull or no bull?


Should bullfighting be banned on the grounds of cruelty or celebrated as a spectacle of skill and courage which is part of the cultural tradition of Spain? Paul Whitelock, a sometime fan, who attended his first corrida at the age of 21, assesses the arguments.

As the bullfight season in Spain draws to a close, never before has so much controversy raged about this centuries-old Spanish spectacle.


This year’s San Fermin festival in Pamplona in July provoked huge controversy after the death of a 27-year-old man from Madrid during the encierro, or bull-running, the fourth death in the last 30 years and the 15th in all since the bull-runnings started in 1922.

Eyebrows were raised when the sexagenarian English matador from Salford, Frank Evans, made a comeback in the ring at Benalmádena in August after major heart and knee surgery.  

But most significant of all, there is to be a vote shortly in the Catalonia parliament on bullfighting in the region, which is expected to result in a ban there.

The anti-blood sports lobby in Spain has certainly become more vocal in recent times.  Yet English-speaking animal lovers have been criticising this most-Spanish of cultural pastimes for decades.  Why?  Is it because in the English-speaker’s psyche, the notion of a fight or contest is ingrained, because of the mis-translation of the Spanish terminology associated with los toros?  In Spanish, you see, the concept of “fight” or “contest” or “struggle” does not occur, because to the Spanish los toros isn’t a fight at all – it’s nothing more nor less than a brightly-coloured spectacle, designed to pit the bravery, skill and guile of the torero against the brute strength, power and hostility of the toro bravo.

For example, what we know as the bullfight is la corrida de toros (bull-running), a bullfighter is a torero (a person who works with bulls), matador means killer and bullfighting as a term is usually just referred to as los toros (the bulls).

Whatever the reasons, and whatever the outcome of the Catalonian vote, the debate will continue to rage for years to come.


Through the eyes of a child
By Philip Edge

In 1962 I was 10 years old and I saw my first corrida.  At that age one does not moralise or consider the ethics of such a spectacle.  It is either good or not good.  For me it was a revelation and I left the plaza de toros in Santander addicted to the art of toreo.
Why, since then, have I spent so much time and money “following the bulls”, finally moving to Spain seven years ago to be nearer the fiesta nacional?

1.  It is a unique event in an increasingly sanitised and politically correct world.
2.  When it is well done it touches emotions in me that nothing else has ever done.
3.  There is a beauty in the movements of some matadores, a cool serenity. It is like watching smoothly flowing water in a quiet river where there is a perfect feeling of calm, an inevitability of beauty, and, in the ambiente, there are many tears shed, born of sensitivity.
4.  I admire the bravery of toreros facing serious injury (common), or death (occasional).  If you have ever been close to a fighting bull you will understand.
5.  The animals themselves are realising their destiny in a far more dignified way than their domesticated cousins in an abattoir, and their lives from birth until the corrida are idyllic, living and treated for four or five years like the royalty they are. 

On this last point it has been discovered recently that a bull is far more stressed travelling from its ranch to the plaza than he is when he is fought.  The wounds that are inflicted on him give pain for three seconds before the endorphins take effect.  Imagine the stress suffered by domestic animals which are transported the same way and then smell blood in the slaughterhouse.  For this reason I will brook any criticism from vegetarians. 

Carnivores – just remember where your meat came from and let aficionados enjoy their passion without ill-informed critical comments based on emotion.  Veggies – say what you like because you have the right to do so.

Philip Edge was born in Scotland. A retired policeman, he moved to live in the mountains of Andalucía with his wife, Sandra, seven years ago, in order to find a better lifestyle and to be nearer to “the bulls”.


Don’t judge until you’ve seen for yourself!
By Serafina Clarke

In September a motion was placed before the parliament in Catalonia to ban bullfighting there.  The result is a referendum due to take place shortly in that region.  Yet this in an area where as recently as July this year, José Tomás, one of the top toreros at the moment, killed six bulls in a packed plaza de toros in Barcelona, the Catalán capital, and gave his earnings to charity.

Catalans have a reputation for political correctness and it is to be hoped that their longing for a “nanny state”, such as is growing in the UK – for example, Morris dancing (dangerous), conker fights (dangerous) and school sports days (dangerous and too competitive) - will at least be retained within the boundaries of that autonomous region and not spread to the rest of Spain.
“Bullfighting is cruel – it needs to be stopped”, said the comedian and “expert” Ricky Gervais recently, while chewing on a beefburger.  I said the same forty years ago and my friends kindly said that I ought not to express an opinion until I’d seen a corrida for myself.  We went to see Antonio Ordóñez, the best torero of his day, and, without understanding anything about it, I wept at the majesty, the beauty and the connection between man and beast.

I’ve seen maybe a hundred more since and I learn with every one.  One certain thing is that the toro bravo (fighting bull) is the most privileged of all managed animals.  For four or five years he ranges over the campo with his family and friends and with very little contact with humans.  Compare this to a beef cow – kept indoors, fed on silage, crowded into a lorry and moved through many European borders for tax advantages, with little food or water, then shot in the head (killed first time if lucky, but not always) in an abattoir.  Has Mr Gervais been to an abattoir or seen pigs on an intensive farm?
When the toro bravo travels, normally only once, he goes Pullman-style: the laws of toreo regulate the size of each compartment, the temperature, the food and drink.  And it’s this which causes the bull the most stress; when he gets into the bullring it’s a different story.

I read in the Press a letter from a reader talking about “the exhausted and enfeebled animals” in the ring.  The reader had obviously never seen a corrida – the toro bravo is by nature aggressive and he comes out fighting, continuing until his final moment.  Morante de la Puebla said:  “The most important thing in toreo is for the torero to implant in the mind of the bull the thought that he wants to kill”.  Bulls which are flojo or tired are quickly replaced at the request of knowledgeable crowds and the president of the corrida.

The anti-toristas may garner more sympathy for their argument if they first call for changes, on land and at sea, in the way that the food that we eat is produced.  I fear they regard toreo as an easy target.  Do any of them think what will happen to the toro bravo if they get their way?  Mass slaughter of an indiscriminate kind and the loss of a great cultural tradition.

Serafina Clarke is a retired literary agent who lives in Gaucín (Málaga).  She loves Spain for many reasons, but one important one is that she can smoke in bars!  She is a dedicated aficionada a los toros who regularly attends corridas in both Spain and southern France.