Blood-Sports – Cultural Heritage or Sadistic Cruelty?

Having decided to spend this year’s Valentine’s exploring Southern France, my boyfriend and I took a much needed vacation and headed towards the historical French regions of Orange, Nimes, and the Languedoc. Amongst spectacular ruined castles, medieval cathedrals and cute coffee shops, which one would expect to enjoy in such a charming setting, I also however, came across something not so charming. Something which shook me up with a jolt. Something I did not know, and did not expect.

Southern France hosts bullfights. I have always known what a bullfight, or corrida is of course, and I have always distantly been against this blood-sport which seemed to parade the glorification of animal suffering for the enjoyment of the masses. However, I had never actually come face to face with the reality of the issue. I was disturbed and upset to see Southern France’s perception of the bullfighter or matador – portrayed as a revered example of manhood and virility, not to mention heroic valour. Heroic valour, yes that’s correct – matadors, or toreros, are actually hailed as artists and popular heroes! I simply could not comprehend this attitude, so I decided to read and research a bit about the history of bullfighting itself.

In the Mediterranean, sacrificing bulls is a practice that dates back to prehistoric times, however it was most notably the Romans who converted it into a spectacle, when they used to pit men against strong animals in the arena for entertainment. In medieval Spain, it was first a sport reserved to the rich and noble, who would fight the bulls on horseback with lances. Later, the practice became to fight the bull on foot, as corridas became a national ‘sport’ practiced by nobles and peasants alike. Although the word ‘sport’ is used, the corrida del toros (literally, ‘running of the bulls’) is not a competition – the bull has no chance at all, it will enter the bullring to be baited, weakened, wounded, and killed – that is a fact.

That is agonising enough, but apart from that, bulls are mistreated and tortured even before entering the bullring itself, since they are disoriented and weakened prior to a fight, or kept hungry in order for them to become more wild and desperate. Many are drugged or have Vaseline smeared on their eyes to impair their vision, not to mention the practice of ‘shaving’ a bull’s horns before a fight, thereby damaging the sensitive nerve endings.

The modern corrida is highly ritualised – when the bull is released into the ring, it is first baited by so-called banderillos with magenta flags, in order to enrage and anger him. Next, a picador on horseback armed with a lance enters the ring, and in a display of horsemanship, runs around the bull and stabs him multiple times on his neck in order to weaken his muscles and induce blood loss. After he exits, three more banderillos enter the bullring and, amidst applause and acclaim, continue to plant sharp barbed sticks into the bull’s shoulders, in order to weaken him further.

In the end, the matador enters the ring alone with a small red cape and a sword, and after many flourishes and flutters, proceeds to stab the bull between the shoulder blades, and then through the heart. Unfortunately, the bull rarely dies immediately, even after all this torture. In this case, the matador stabs him multiple times, puncturing his lungs until the poor animal dies suffocated in his own blood.

Bullfighting is considered to be a ‘national sport’ in Spain. It is reported that 24,000 bulls are killed each year, in front of audiences of 30 million people, and that it constitutes an average of 12% of the €15 million cashed in by its entertainment industry.

In November 2014, the British newspaper the Daily Mail reported that ‘British taxpayers are forking out £13.5 million a year to pay for EU subsidies for bullfighting in Spain… [since] Spanish farmers receive the handouts for breeding the animals killed in the controversial sport as part of the Common Agricultural Policy.’ Britain’s own Animal Welfare Act 2006 showed how this was in direct violation of the ‘sport.’ However, EU funds were still being used to fund bullfighting, which was given special cultural status in Spain in a political move, after it was banned in Catalunya in 2010. Bullfighting in fact takes place in only nine countries around the world, since a considerable number of places, such as Canada, Germany, Italy, Denmark and the United Kingdom, amongst others, have banned it and it is no longer legal to hold such fights.

One could repeat the well-used adage by bullfighting aficionados (not to mention hunters) the world over – that is, that one kills animals to eat their meat, therefore killing them for entertainment is the same thing, since they would be dead anyway. This is like comparing a soldier fighting for his survival in a World War to a sadistic serial killer like Charles Manson. Killing for survival is oceans apart from torturing, maiming and slowly murdering a living being for one’s own pleasure and ‘entertainment.’

Just because something is ‘traditional’ does not make it right. Things which were acceptable in prehistory should not be the order of the day in the so-called ‘enlightened’ 21st century. Cruelty is cruelty, no matter where in the world it happens. Joyfully torturing and sadistically killing a living being for one’s own orgiastic pleasure is not something which should have a place in a modern and educated civilisation, much less be elevated to a symbol of national identity and unity.