More than a decade after bullfighting was banned in Catalonia, its supporters are calling for it to be reintroduced, as Spain sees an apparent resurgence of the divisive pastime.
A ban on bullfighting, approved by the local parliament, was introduced in Catalonia in 2012. Although the Spanish constitutional court overturned that decision four years later, the tradition has been absent from the northeastern region ever since.
However, the Catalan Bullfighting Federation, which represents organisations that support the activity, has asked the Spanish government to promote the return of “corridas” to the region. The move comes after the left-wing administration’s minister for culture, Miquel Iceta, was seen next to King Felipe VI at a bullfight during the San Isidro festival in Madrid’s Las Ventas bullring on Sunday.
The federation said it was significant that a government minister had appeared in an official capacity at a bullfight. It appealed to Mr Iceta, who is Catalan, “as culture minister, a senior figure within the Catalan Socialist Party and a citizen who loves freedom, to allow and encourage the return of bullfights to Catalonia”.
The Catalan ban fed into mounting tensions over the region’s sovereignty. Unionists alleged that the initiative, which was supported mainly by nationalist parties, was a political move which sought to remove traditions associated with the rest of Spain from Catalonia. Other, more local traditions, such as the “correbous”, in which bulls have fireworks attached to their horns but are not killed, were not banned.
Although the constitutional tribunal’s decision to overturn the ban means bullfighting is technically allowed, it has not returned to the region.
Earlier this year, Mr Iceta was at the centre of a political storm when the government attempted to exclude bullfighting from events that young people could attend using a new €400 annual “culture coupon”. The supreme court eventually ruled that bullfighting should be included.
The Socialist Party has had an ambivalent stance on the issue, although some of its leading politicians openly support bullfighting. Its junior partner in the governing coalition, the leftist Unidas Podemos, is stridently opposed.
Juan López de Uralde, an MP for Unidas Podemos, said his party was against the use of the culture coupon for “a bloody spectacle based on the suffering of an animal”.
Bullfighting fully recovered from the pandemic, with more than 20,000 corridas and bull-related events held in 2022, more than in 2019, according to figures released by the National Association of Bull Spectacle Organisers.
The association said the figures reflect “the large presence and deep roots of bullfighting the length and breadth of Spain”.
The increase in numbers has been attributed, at least in part, to new subsidies which have been provided to bullfighting in regions such as Madrid and Castilla y León, both governed by right-wing parties.
In 2012, Madrid’s local government gave bullfighting “Intangible Cultural Heritage” status – a pointed response to the Catalan ban. The current Madrid regional government has increased subsidies for the industry to €7 million a year, up from €1.3 million in 2017. These funds include direct support for bull breeders, as well as the financing of bullfights and matador academies.
However, polls show that about half of Spaniards are in favour of banning bullfighting altogether and even some respected voices within the sector criticise the quality of the spectacle being offered.
Antonio Lorca, bullfighting correspondent for El País newspaper, has frequently spoken out about what he sees as a decline in the standard of both bulls and matadors. A recent corrida during Madrid’s San Isidro festival, Lorca said, was “the confirmation, if any was needed, that bullfighting is sliding down a slope, the bottom of which is still not visible”.