Forget the Catalan ban, bullfighting was already in trouble

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La corridas commercial viability is questionable and its shaky credibility undermines those who step into the ring.

In Catalonia, the last bull has been killed by a matadors sword. In January, a ban on bullfighting takes effect in the region and Sundays corrida in La Monumental bullring was the last of the season, and, probably, the last ever.

There is still the possibility that an appeal against the ban will flourish, although a ruling is still a long way off, but fans and opponents of bullfighting behaved as if Sunday marked the end of an era.

The Catalan ruling is indeed a landmark, although a ban has been in place in the Canary Islands for two decades. However, given the tangle of regional politics that lay behind Catalonias decision, it seems unlikely there will be a rash of similar bans across the country. Nonetheless, as someone who knows little about bullfighting and who has been to only a handful of corridas, it seems to me that the fiesta is in trouble.

The first, most obvious reason for this is a sheer lack of interest on the part of Spaniards. Who goes to bullfights these days? Tourists and pensioners, for the most part. Some younger Spaniards can be spotted in bullrings, but there arent hordes of them queuing up for tickets. Football, TV, the internet the usual suspects seem to be to blame. Barcelona has three bullrings, but La Monumental was the only one still hosting corridas when the ban was voted on. Disinterest, not animal rights, is killing this tradition.

But there are other, darker reasons to query the health of this cultural activity/sport/sadistic perversion choose your own definition. Rumours of bulls horns being shaved before entering the ring, and even of the animals being drugged, circulate and damage the credibility of those holding the cape.

For many connoisseurs, the quality of the bulls used further undermines what is supposed to be a noble tradition. For work reasons, I went to a novillada a junior bullfight, with young toreros and small bulls in Barcelonas La Monumental in May. The public in the half-empty bullring booed two of the animals, which staggered around, bewildered, for much of their time on the sand. One of them tripped over its own feet, injured its neck and could not stand up. It was killed there on the spot, with a knife to the brain, before the torero had faced a whiff of danger.

This kind of spectacle might explain the appeal of Jos Toms, the countrys star bullfighter, who has been repeatedly gored, most famously last year in Mexico, where he nearly died. Many query Tomss technique, but you cant fault his willingness to put his life on the line. With the odds so firmly set against the bull, despite all the nonsense spouted about man against beast, Tomss recklessness makes things look somewhat fairer.

But I cant help feeling that there is something of the freak show in bullfighting these days. The young man who camped out for several nights to buy the first ticket to Sundays final corrida in Barcelona was clearly dedicated, but he admitted to not even being a bullfighting fan. He simply wanted to experience a historic moment. Not knowing a good matador’s pass from a bad one, presumably the only thing that would have impressed him would have been to see a spectacular goring.

So bullfighting is dying and its not even the animal rights campaigners who are doing the damage. Its credibility and commercial viability are stumbling and staggering, like confused beasts in the ring. Its only a matter of time before the sword is driven through their hearts.

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