22nd June 2024
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Spanish government scraps €30,000 national bullfighting prize, sparking debate

Spain’s coalition government said on Friday that it would be scrapping a national prize for bullfighting, prompting anger from supporters of the controversial spectacle – although the news was welcomed by animal rights groups.

Spain’s Culture Ministry said it based its decision to abolish the award on the ‘new social and cultural reality in Spain’ where worries about animal welfare have risen while attendance at most bullrings has declined.

‘A growing majority’ of Spaniards are concerned about animal welfare, so ‘we did not believe it is appropriate to maintain an award that rewards a form of animal abuse’, said Culture Minister Ernest Urtasun, who belongs to left-wing Sumar group, which is socialist (PSOE) Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s junior coalition partners.

‘I think they understand even less that these forms of animal torture are rewarded with medals that come with monetary prizes using public money,’ he added during an interview with La Sexta TV.

The annual prize, which was created in 2011 under a previous socialist government and was first awarded in 2013, grants €30,000 to winners.

Top matadors such as Enrique Ponce and Julián López, known as ‘El Juli’, have won the prize in the past.

Bullfighting retains a passionate following in some circles in Spain and leading matadors are treated as celebrities. But the practice’s mass appeal has faded and polls show a rising disinterest across the country, especially among the young.

Only 1.9% of the Spanish population attended a bullfight during the 2021-22 season, down from 8% in 2018-19, according to a survey of leisure habits carried out by the culture ministry.

In recent years bullfighting has become a key issue in Spain’s culture wars, pitting left-wing parties against right-wing and the far-right who argue it is an integral part of the country’s identity.

Spain’s main right-wing opposition People’s Party (PP) swiftly promised to reinstate the prize if it returns to power.

PP spokesman Borja Semper accused the government of being ‘obsessed with sticking its finger in the eye of those who do not think’ as it does, while the party’s spokesman in parliament, Miguel Tellado, said bullfighting was ‘part of our culture, of our traditions’.

Several regional governments, including one run by the socialists in Castilla-La Mancha where bullfighting is popular, said they would create their own bullfighting prizes to replace the national one being scrapped.

The PP leader of the Aragón region, Jorge Azcón, also said it would introduce another award. ‘Tradition should be something that unites us rather than divides,’ he said.

The Fundación del Toro de Lidia, an NGO that promotes bullfighting in Spain, accused Urtasun of carrying out his duties in a discriminatory way against bullfighting.

‘A culture minister cannot exercise his powers based on his personal preferences, he has the obligation to promote and encourage all cultural manifestations, among which is bullfighting,’ it said in a statement.

But animal rights groups welcomed the government’s decision.

Animal rights party PACMA called the measure a ‘positive step’ and urged the government to go further with the ‘total abolition’ of all forms of public support for bullfighting.

‘We consider it to be a form of legalised animal abuse and cannot be justified under any circumstances, let alone encouraged through any kind of economic or social incentive,’ it said in a statement.

‘This measure marks a milestone in the fight against bullfighting, a controversial practice that has for years generated debate,’ animal rights group AnimaNaturalis said.

Some 44.1% of Spaniards were in favour of prohibiting bullfighting, according to a 2021 survey for polling company Electomania, while 34.7% backed the tradition and 21.2% said they had no opinion on the matter.

Spain’s Canary Islands banned bullfighting in 1991. Catalonia followed suit in 2010 but this ban was officially overturned by Spain’s Constitutional Court six years later.

Bullfighting also takes place in Portugal and southern France, as well as in Spain’s former colonies in Latin America where opposition to the practice is also growing.

ALSO READ: Court rules that options to spend €400 culture voucher can’t exclude bullfights.

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