Spain’s bullfighting world at war

Spain’s bullfighting world at war

11th March 2009, Comments 0 comments

Spanish matadors are at each other's throats over a Fine Arts medal that was awarded to a matador whose fame outshines his abilities at the sport.

MADRID – A fierce debate has erupted in Spain's bullfighting world after the culture ministry gave an award to a handsome matador who some say is better known for his personal life than his abilities in the ring.

The controversy began two weeks ago when the ministry gave the Fine Arts medal to Francisco Rivera Ordonez, a member of Spain's most illustrious bullfighting family who is heavily involved in the business side of the sport.

The ministry praised Ordonez, who has spent the past 15 years in the bullring, for his "aesthetics, poise and depth".

"It is a reward for my effort, for my life," the 35-year-old said after he collected the medal.

Dissatisfaction over the choice burst into the limelight over the weekend when it emerged that two previous medal winners had returned their prizes in protest.

Jose Tomas, one of Spain's hottest matadors, and Paco Camino, a former idol of the bullring, justified the move in a letter to Culture Minister Cesar Antonio Molina in which they said the award had lost all value, daily newspaper ABC reported on Saturday.

Spanish matador Jose Tomas celebrating with two ears after fighting a bull at the 'El Coso de los Califas' Bullring in Cordoba. AFP PHOTO/ CRISTINA QUICLER
Spanish matador Jose Tomas celebrating with two ears after fighting a bull at the 'El Coso de los Califas' Bullring in Cordoba
Rivera is the son of Paquirri who was gored to death by a bull in 1984 and the grandson of Antonio Ordonez, the favourite bullfighter of US novelist and journalist Ernest Hemingway who won the Fine Arts medal decades before.

Each year he and his younger brother Cayetano, an occasional Armani model, organise a bullfighting festival in the southwestern town of Ronda where toreros and the public dress in the manner of Goya's sketches of life in the region.

Rivera's critics argue he received the award because of his role in staging the event, which draws top figures from the world of culture, fashion and politics, and the fact that he was once married to the daughter of the Duchess of Alba.

"He is a good torero, but he's no artist. Everyone is indignant about this award. This prize should be for merit and not awarded on the basis of who's friendly with whom," top bull breeder Victorino Martin told ABC.

Rival bullfighter Morante de la Puebla said granting the award to Rivera was "shameful", prompting Cayetano to reportedly announce that he would never again appear in the ring with Morante.

Others are upset that an unspoken code that says a bullfighter should not publicly question the performance of another has been broken.

Bullfighting critic Jose Antonio del Moral who has authored several books on the sport told AFP the decision by Tomas and Camino to return their medals was "inconvenient", adding it was "an insult to a colleague, a lynching attempt".

Top-selling daily newspaper El Pais also blasted the move by the bullfighting duo, saying they had not been very "elegant" by attacking their colleague, who the paper described as a "brave professional".

"Can you imagine if in other sectors a similar commotion was triggered?" it asked in an editorial published on Sunday.

Camino has since attempted to temper his critique, saying he has "nothing against Rivera" and mainly wanted to criticise the culture ministry.
Spain's matador Julian Lopez "El Juli" gets ready to fight a Garcigrande's fighting bull, 15 September 2006 in Nimes, southern France, on the opening day of the town's fair. AFP PHOTO ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT
The controversy comes at a time of growing opposition in Spain to bullfighting, which ends with the death of the bull from a well-placed sword.

Polls show a rising disinterest in bullfighting, especially among the younger generation, although arenas regularly fill to capacity for the spectacle when top matadors like Tomas perform.

11 March 2009

AFP / Gilbert Grellet / Expatica

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