Leonardo Anselmi, Prou spokesman, said that if bullfighting is banned in Catalonia, other regions of Spain will follow. “We think this will be the beginning of the end for this cruel spectacle,” he said.
Catalonia (Spain) voted yesterday to ban bullfighting, a move that campaigners claim could mark the beginning of the end of Spain’s most controversial sport.
Protestors dressed as slaughtered bulls stood outside the Catalan Parliament before 67 deputies voted for the ban, with 59 against. Five abstained.
The motion must pass a final vote next year before a ban comes into force.
Though the ban will put an end to bullfights, it will not prohibit street fiestas in which bulls are tormented, sometimes with balls of fire attached to their horns.
The motion called for a change in Catalonia’s animal cruelty law that would see fighting bulls, which are currently excluded, protected from any kind of torture.
The campaign to ban las corridas (bullfights) in this wealthy northeast region of Spain has stirred up a heated debate and attracted celebrity support from the likes of Ricky Gervais and Pamela Anderson.
Gervais, who has been a supporter of animal rights for years, told The Times: “Shame on anyone who finds an animal being tortured entertaining.
“And shame on anyone who thinks that stepping into a ring armed with swords with a frightened and confused animal who has often already had the tendons in its neck severed so it cannot lift its head is brave.”
Anderson, also a veteran animal rights activist, said: “The most appalling kind of cruelty is that which is perpetuated in the name of mere entertainment.”
The campaigners, calling themselves Prou! (Catalan for “Enough!”) collected 168,000 signatures for a motion to convince the Catalan deputies to hold the vote.
Leonardo Anselmi, Prou spokesman, said that if bullfighting is banned in Catalonia, other regions of Spain will follow.
“We think this will be the beginning of the end for this cruel spectacle,” he said.
But the celebrity animal rights’ activists have faced an equally determined campaign by Spanish writers, artists, directors and architects who want los toros (the bulls) to remain.
Mario Vargas Llosa, the award-winning Peruvian writer, Eduardo Medoza, a Spanish writer, Miquel Barcelo, the artist, and Calixto Bieito, the theatre director, are among the high-profile figures who defended bullfighting.
“It is not only a cultural reality, a festival, a tradition, a part of the economy which is to play for but also the liberty of all,” said Luis Corrales, the campaign spokesman.
Spain’s best-known matadors puffed out their chests in a group photograph this week in defence of what they call their “art’”.
José Tomás — the David Beckham of bullfighting — who commands fees of €400,000 (£340,835) for an afternoon’s work, has become the figurehead of their campaign.
Salvador Boix, Tomas’ manager, told The Times: “This attempt to ban bullfighting shows the hypocrisy of the politicians who all enjoy eating meat but vote to end bullfighting.” Some observers believe that the motion to ban bullfighting has little to do with concern for animal welfare and more to do with opposition from Catalan nationalists to a Spanish cultural phenomenon which is seen as alien by separatists. Nationalist parties voted for the ban.
Catalonia is not the first region to ban bullfighting. In 1991 the Canary Islands included bullfighting in a law that prohibited the suffering of animals for public enjoyment.
The Catalan vote, however, is the first to specifically ban what Spaniards call ‘”the national fiesta”.
The initiative, which will pay compensation to bull breeders and bull ring owners from public money, comes as the number of bullfights and fiestas involving bulls has fallen in recent years. According to government figures there were 891 this year, 354 fewer than in 2008.
As Spain experiences its worst recession in decades, many councils, who have to pay for bulls to be used in public festivals, have cut back.
In Spain, the exploits of the country’s matadors – who rank alongside footballers and pop stars in standing – are reported in the culture sections of newspapers.
Bullfighting aficionados, however, have complained that the media increasingly gives their art a negative image.
In 2007 bullfighting was dropped by the state broadcaster RTVE from children’s television.
Victoria Martin Garcia, a bull breeder, said: “How can it be that the second most popular sport is not on television nor appears much in the media?” Attitudes among younger Spaniards, however, may prove the biggest enemy of bullfighting. A Gallup survey in 2006 found that 81 per cent of those under 35 had no interest in bullfighting.