Sport banned on grounds of cruelty to animals

Already at 4 am the crowds were swelling outside Barcelona's historic bull fighting ring, the Monumental, desperate to get a ticket for the last-ever bullfight to take place here.

As the fight progressed, opponents of the blood sport celebrated their “moral and principled victory” outside the bullring, but mourned the fact that bulls were again being slaughtered in this final historic battle between man and beast.

Over 20,000 spectators watched spellbound as matadors and toreadors in full regalia, exquisitely embroidered with gold thread, now cajoled, now provoked bulls weighing anywhere between 500 to 700 kg. Twirling and twisting their capes with infinite grace to repeatedly stab the enraged animals, driving stakes deep into the neck and shoulders, they kept up the onslaught until the animals were felled, brought to their feet through exhaustion and loss of blood. Yelling and excited fans carried their heroes, the bullfighters Tomas and Safin Marin around the town after the bulls had been ritually slain.

“For many bull fighting fans, this is a personal tragedy. The corrida is in their blood and the fighters are their heroes. Special bulls, the most famous being the Miura from Seville, are reared for fighting and the end of the sport in Catalonia is going to mean the end of an industry,” Xavi Ayes, a journalist with the Barcelona paper LaVanguardia told The Hindu.

The Catalan Parliament last year outlawed bullfighting after years of protests by animal rights activists who said the sport was barbaric, inflicting untold suffering and horrendous injuries on the bull before the animal dies, vainly trying to defend itself.

Afficionados of the sport say that it is a fair fight between man and beast and that a tradition which dates as far back as 711 AD cannot be wiped out by a law they describe as “arbitrary”.

Six bulls and three bullfighters participate in the traditional bullfight, with each matador fighting two bulls.

“This is culture, this is tradition, this is beauty and art. None of those opposing the corrida have ever witnessed a fight. The men in the ring risk their lives and the bulls often get the better of them. The sheer beauty of the gestures, the grace, the courage required are phenomenal. Of course we are not stopping here. We shall challenge the law in court,” said Juan, a 57-year old fan.

Ernest Hemingway, who was a lifelong fan of bullfighting, wrote Death in the Afternoon, one of the most authoritative books on the sport which examines in great detail the traditions, uniforms, rituals and rites related to bullfighting. Ava Gardner, the 50s Hollywood siren known for legendary films like Gilda was also a fervent admirer of the sport and spent the last years of her life in Spain.

The Catalan case will be closely watched in other parts of Spain. Bull fighting, a great tourist attraction continues in cities like Madrid, Seville or Cordoba and there are some 600 bullrings across the country with over a thousand bulls killed each year.

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