Bullfighting in Spain: A barbaric sport or an iconic tradition?
Ken Browne in Madrid
The recent rulings have drawn criticism and anger from the anti-bullfighting lobby. /CGTN
The recent rulings have drawn criticism and anger from the anti-bullfighting lobby. /CGTN

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

A recent Spanish supreme court ruling classed bullfighting as part of Spain's "cultural heritage," placing the country's oldest and most controversial spectacle alongside creative art forms like flamenco dancing, theater, art, and live music.

The ruling opened the way for the 'youth culture voucher' to be used on bullfighting, and added fuel to the fire of an age-old cultural conflict.


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


A victory for the bullfighting industry

It is another victory for the bullfighting industry. The government introduced a new unemployment benefit for workers in the artistic sector who have been out of work for over 60 days, people who struggle due to the seasonal nature of their jobs.

Bullfighters were not included in this hardship fund, but after industry advocates brought it to Spain's supreme court, judges ruled in their favor.

"The government payments help a lot because they finally put bullfighting at the same level as other art forms like theater or cinema and can help young people get into bullfighting and stick with it," Bullfighter Javier Cortes told CGTN.

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


'It's getting harder to be a bullfighter'

But Cortes says that it is not easy to be part of the industry in the face of waning popularity and the growing power of the anti-bullfighting lobby. "It's becoming harder to be a bullfighter with every day that passes because society is taking a different path, the values of bullfighting are being left to one side."

The scars on his face where the bulls horns have pierced his skin from his lip to under his chin and dangerously close to his right eye are visible, but he says the injuries will not stop him from doing what he loves.

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

Those against it say the industry already receives too much funding via farm breeding subsidies through grants from the EU, and through regional government support.


'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 the tradition.

"81 percent of young Spaniards are not proud of having bullfighting as their national cultural heritage," Marta Estaban, President of the 'Torture is not Culture' anti-bullfighting platform, told CGTN. "It's an activity that is cruel, unethical, and should simply disappear. I think it's better to help those that are creating non-cruel, non-violent culture which is what the world and Spain should be looking forward to," she added.

"They should retrain people from this industry, as it is not profitable anymore, that would be a better use of this money."

Data from Spain's ministry of culture shows that in the 10 years before the pandemic, the number of bullfights organized in Spain were reduced by almost half, down from over 2,500 to just under 1,500.

Gayle Allard is a professor of Economics at IE Business School in Madrid, and she explains how seasonal jobs leave people out of work for months at a time.

"In Spain, because of tourism and agriculture, it's a particularly seasonal economy and of course cultural activities are linked to the tourist sector - this is another way of trying to give people a little bit more financial security."


Significant drop in numbers

This new government payment could be an important source of income for an industry that only runs from late spring to the end of summer. Yet, despite a significant drop in numbers, the industry does still have some hugely popular festivals like the Pamplona Bull Run or Madrid's annual San Isidro festival.

The tens of millions of tourists that visit the country and want to experience the distinctly Spanish spectacle also bring a lot of money to the industry. Bullfighting generates over $1.6 billion across all associated sectors But it is a divisive topic that has also become highly politicized, another issue that divides the 'Two Spains.'

Many on the right of the political divide believe it is an important symbol of Spain, an ancient pre-Roman tradition worthy of protection. While voices on the left say it is a barbaric practice that needs to be consigned 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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