Romanticized in Ernest Hemmingway’s novel Death in the Afternoon, the sport gained cult status and Spain’s tourism industry continues to keep the love alive for the performance.
But inflated ticket prices, imposed by a new tax on cultural events and the European nation’s continued economic woes have contributed to declining numbers in major competition events and dismal attendance. As has Spain’s growing anti bullfighting sentiment.
“Our society has evolved and part of this is recognizing when animals are suffering,” says Silvia Barquero of Partido Animalista, a political party in defence of animal rights. “These days it’s hard for anyone to deny the cruelty of this tradition.”
According to PETA more than 40,000 bulls and 200 horses are ‘barbarically slaughtered’ every year in bullrings around the world. Animal rights activists succeed in abolishing the blood-soaked pageantry in the country’s northern region of Catalonia last year, and many believe the ban could spread to other parts of the country.
A traditional pastime since Ancient Roman times, today’s spectacle of man facing off against beast and certain death traces back to the early 18th century – something which is still reflected in the intricately embroidered outfits that adorn the matadors.
Yet love for bullfighting is now limited to it’s graying conservative fans and a handful of ambitious young stars – many of whom have already left Spain altogether to compete instead in Latin America.
Nevertheless they still have one important supporter in their ring. Spain’s conservative party Prime Minister, Mariano Rajoy, says he intends to declare bullfighting part of Spain’s “national patrimony,” channelling more funds into the dying sport.
Barquero disagrees: “In Spain there are enough traditions and cultural practices that we can support. We don’t need to maintain bullfighting.”