Carrying red and yellow flowers to show bullfighting is a symbol of Spanish culture, thousands of aficionados cheered on matadors who returned to Madrid’s Las Ventas bullring on Sunday for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic began. Wearing mandatory face masks and sitting in fumigated seats separated by stickers, fans watched matadors take on seven bulls in a charity contest to raise money for jobless bullfighters and other workers in the sector.
Almost all of Spain’s bullrings, or plazas, have remained closed for the last year due to lockdown restrictions - plunging the controversial spectacle and its matadors into financial crisis.
A maximum of 6,000 people were allowed in to watch the bullfight - equivalent to 40% capacity at the arena, considered the world’s most important bullring.
A stellar line-up of bullfighters, including Enrique Ponce, El Juli and Miguel Angel Perera, entertained the privileged few fans who managed to get tickets. Before the contest, bars were full outside the famous bullring.
“I believe that they will take all the necessary measures so that everything goes easily and in complete security," said Rocío Cañete, 32, a nursery school worker from Madrid.
Spaniards are divided over the bloody spectacle, with some considering it an art form, while others think it is cruel. Its popularity has declined in recent years, meeting opposition from an increasingly powerful animal rights movement and some left-wing councils that refuse to pay for bull festivals.
Bullfighting, known as a corrida in the Hispanic world — was brought to the Americas by Spanish conquistadors in the 16th century and has since become hugely popular in Peru of all social classes. The annual Senor de los Milagros (lord of the miracles) festival at Lima’s Acho Bullring that usually takes place in October or November was cancelled this year due to Covid-19 restrictions. Peru has more bullfighting arenas than football stadiums.
In February, Peru’s top court rejected a lawsuit brought by animal rights activists hoping to ban cock and bullfighting on the grounds they were unconstitutional. More than 5,000 people had signed a petition, submitted in 2018, demanding that “all cruel shows using animals" be banned. But the Constitutional Court ruled that “there is no universal declaration of animal rights that has been adopted by either the UN or UNESCO."