For Spain’s Bullfights, Coronavirus Threatens Fatal Blow.

Matador Diego Urdiales: ‘It is a terrible moment. Many families depend on the bullfighting world.’ PHOTO: MANU BRABO FOR THE WALL STREET JOURNAL.

Pandemic forces cancellation of events already condemned by animal-rights groups.

By Giovanni Legorano.

Veteran matador Diego Urdiales had this year’s bullfighting season all planned out. He was due to perform in Spain’s most important festivals, from Seville’s April Fair to Madrid’s San Isidro.

Then the coronavirus pandemic hit and bullfights were canceled, along with other public events. Now Mr. Urdiales fears he won’t step back into the ring any time soon.

The centuries-old Spanish tradition of bullfighting was already in decline before the pandemic. Animal-rights groups condemn the spectacles, and the events have struggled to attract younger Spaniards. Aficionados worry the coronavirus will deal a fatal blow.

“It’s a terrible moment,” said Mr. Urdiales. “Many families depend on the bullfighting world. Now we can only wait and see what happens.”

After suffering one of the world’s biggest coronavirus outbreaks, which claimed more than 27,000 lives, Spain is reopening most of its economy and daily life now, but it is still unclear when bullfights might resume.

On Saturday, bullfighting professionals and aficionados marched in Spanish cities such as Ciudad Real, Valladolid and Ávila, with many swinging Spanish flags and bullfighter pink-and-yellow capes, to raise awareness of the tradition’s predicament and ask for government help.

Last year, 1,425 bullfighting events were held in Spain, compared with 3,651 in 2007, according to Spain’s Ministry of Culture and Sport. Over the same period, the number of Spaniards who attended a bullfighting event fell 14% to 3.1 million.

An antibullfighting movement, backed by many left-wing politicians, has grown steadily. Many Spaniards now prefer other forms of entertainment such as soccer, while sensibility toward animal welfare has grown and become more ingrained in Spanish society.

Some regions, notably Catalonia, have already banned bullfighting in recent years. “The sector is facing the gravest crisis in its history,” said Antonio Lorca, a bullfighting expert and journalist.

Opponents of bullfighting see the standstill as an opportunity to ban a spectacle that they argue is cruel and outdated.

Diego Urdiales in Burgos last week. It is unclear when bullfights might resume in the country. Below, oxen at a bull farm in Burgos.Photo: Manu Brabo for The Wall Street Journal.

“This is a moment for a change in direction to give bullfighting people the chance to leave the sector and dedicate themselves to something else,” said Carmen Ibarlucea, president of antibullfighting organization Torture Isn’t Culture.

“What is at stake here is cultural freedom,” said Chapu Apaolaza, spokesman of the Fundación del Toro de Lidia, a group of bullfighting professionals. “We can’t prohibit something because it is scandalizing or hurting the sensibility of parts of society. This is censorship.”

Mr. Apaoloza and other professionals say the government is discriminating against their sector by excluding it so far from the government aid that many other activities are receiving because of the pandemic.

Spain has earmarked more than €80 million ($90 million) in financial aid for cultural activities, including grants, loan guarantees and other help for the music, movie and other sectors, but bullfighting isn’t among the beneficiaries.

Bullfighting equipment in Burgos. Last year, 1,425 bullfighting events were held in Spain, compared with 3,651 in 2007. Attendance at the events fell 14% over that time.Photo: Manu Brabo for The Wall Street Journal.

A spokeswoman for the Ministry of Culture and Sport said that although the bullfighting sector isn’t specifically mentioned in the financial-aid legislation, it hasn’t been excluded either and can apply for government-guaranteed bank loans and other benefits. She said Culture and Sport Minister José Manuel Rodríguez plans to meet with representatives of the bullfighting industry this week to hear their concerns.

A bullfight normally features three toreros, as bullfighters are known, each of whom kills two bulls. The final act of the fight involves the matador, waving his red cloth and trying to dispatch the bull by driving a sword between its shoulders.

Torero Javier Jiménez hasn’t given up on the season and has been in training in recent weeks in his native Seville, in the hope he might be able to return to the arenas soon.

“I am optimistic,” he said. “Bullfighting is a metaphor of life. It contains everything: triumph, failure, death. It’s tough right now. But we’ll go through it.”

Bullfighter Javier Jiménez, who trains in Seville. ‘It’s tough right now,’ he says. ‘But we’ll go through it.’Photo: Aitor Lara for The Wall Street Journal.

If this year’s entire season—which normally lasts from March to late October—is lost, about one-third of the 150,000 jobs in the sector are at risk of disappearing, according to the Fundación del Toro de Lidia.

Festivals including July’s San Fermín in Pamplona, known for its bull run through the city’s narrow and twisting streets, have been canceled.

“What can I say, it was a huge disappointment,” said bullfighting fan Luisma Gil, who lives in Pamplona. “We understand that health comes first and respect it. But Pamplona’s fiestas are the place to be for us.”

If bullfighting resumes this season, it is likely to be under strict social-distancing rules that mean the arenas can only be half-full at best. Many people in the sector say many festivals wouldn’t be financially viable under those conditions.

Raising a 500-kilogram (1,100-pound) bull costs about €4,000 to €5,000 over four to seven years, according to Spain’s Union of Fighting-Bull Breeders. This year’s season would have involved about 7,000 bulls. Many of those animals would be considered too old to fight next year.

Farmers have started sending some bulls to slaughterhouses, but can recover only 10% of the cost of raising them by selling them for meat. “For now, we don’t see the light at the end of the tunnel,” said Antonio Bañuelos, president of the Union of Fighting-Bull Breeders.

This year’s bullfighting season in Spain would have involved about 7,000 bulls.Photo: Manu Brabo for The Wall Street Journal.

Write to Giovanni Legorano at

Source: The Wall Street Journal

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