Bullfighting could be banned in Pamplona, says city’s mayor

Spanish bullfighting industry and fans criticise comments ahead of bull-running festival

Bullfighting in Pamplona, which is part of the city’s world-famous festival of San Fermín, is facing the prospect of being banned due to mounting opposition from animal rights groups and leftist political parties.

The mayor of Pamplona, Joseba Asiron, has raised the possibility of maintaining the fiesta's "running of the bulls" tradition – where animals chase participants through Pamplona's cobbled streets to the bullring – but that the bullfights staged each evening using the same bulls no longer take place.

"I can't imagine the festival without bulls, but I can imagine it without bullfighting, " Asiron told Valencian newspaper El Temps.

His comments, published on Monday, came less than three weeks before the beginning of this year's San Fermín event, which brings about a million visitors to the city from across Spain and abroad. Ernest Hemingway popularised the festival in his 1926 novel The Sun Also Rises, which glamorised the city's hedonism and its daily bullfights.


Asiron’s remarks have triggered alarm within the bullfighting industry and provoked an immediate backlash.

An organisation representing bull breeders issued a statement calling on the mayor to change his mind and warning that “there is no way there can be bull-running without bullfights in Pamplona”.

Tradition and festival

The breeders added that “the bullfights justify the staging of the bull-running because they are a tradition which has become a popular festival”.

The criticism caused the mayor to play down his proposal the following day, insisting he is not calling for bullfighting in the city to be banned immediately.

“Right now the current format of San Fermín can’t be understood without bullfighting, but I also understand that there has to be this development and this debate,” he said.

That debate, he added, “has to exist because we’re talking about a cultural activity that is controversial and which generates controversy”.

In recent years, bullfighting has faced increasing political opposition, particularly from younger, left-leaning politicians. Although Asiron has said in the past that he is a bullfighting fan, many of his colleagues in the leftist Basque nationalist Bildu coalition are vocal opponents.

Bullfighting’s divisiveness was highlighted earlier this month, when animal rights activists in Pamplona damaged infrastructure due to be used to hold the bulls that will take part in the upcoming festival. Equipment was burned and graffiti was painted on the walls of the pen.

The group responsible issued a communiqué in which it promised to “sabotage and impede the events that use animals at San Fermín”.

Cruel and unnecessary

In response, councillors in Pamplona city hall issued a carefully worded motion affirming their “respect and support” for the running of the bulls (but not the bullfights). But the United Left party and the leftist Podemos refused to endorse the motion, condemning the bull-running, as well as the bullfighting, as cruel and unnecessary.

“We don’t want the festivities to include bull-running,” said Laura Berro, of the local branch of Podemos. “We don’t want Pamplona to be the city of bull-running, but rather the city that battles male chauvinism.”

In recent years, the city’s festivities have been marred by a string of sexual assaults. One particular case in 2016, in which a group of men assaulted an 18-year-old woman, drew enormous attention. The ensuing court case was widely criticised after the defendants were convicted for abuse but not rape.

Podemos has already been involved in a successful campaign that saw the law controlling bullfighting in the Balearic Islands changed last year, preventing the animals from being killed and banning the use of swords. In addition, some towns, such as Xátiva and Aldaia, on the east coast, have held referendums leading to outright bans on bullfighting.