MALAGA – Tonight I attended my first Spanish Bullfighting event and thought I should pen my thoughts on the ‘contest’. I’m sure it’s a topic which will stimulate discussion and divide opinion. 

I want to make it clear that I am an animal lover, however not a vegetarian or vegan. I accept that some of you reading this will find this contradictory, however I believe there is a significant difference between killing animals for the purpose of food, and killing animals for the purpose of entertainment. I’m well aware this divides opinion.

Call it naivety or a simply a lack of education on the topic, prior to purchasing the tickets I was unaware of the fate awaiting the bulls. I had seen short clips of Matadors waving a red cape in front of bulls and skilfully dodging their ferocious horns, however having not seen much more footage than this, I wasn’t aware of what comes next…

In front of a sell out crowd of almost 10,000 smartly dressed people, predominantly males aged over 50 with a noticeable absence of people under the age of 30, the entertainment started with a large, clearly aggravated bull entering the arena to a chorus of screams and whistles. Disoriented and confused, the bull circled the arena curiously for a few moments before a number of assistants (locally known as banderilleros) entered. Their role, to tease, distract, and tire out the bull before running to hide behind a wooden wall, hyped the blood-thirsty crowd.

Another assistant soon enters upon a horse, armed with a large spear-like instrument, razor sharp. This assistant stalks the bull momentarily, before finding the opportune time to strike it forcefully in the back. Its thick skin is pierced numerous times, as the blood drips to the sun-drenched sand below. The orchestral band in the stands plays loudly, as the exhausted bull tries to regain its breath. Soon, it is forced to fight on, injured, oozing blood, and constantly aggravated. With the crowd roaring in approval, the bull is next stabbed by three further assistants who are each armed with barbed sticks. Their goal is to each lodge two of these into the bull’s back, six in total. Having now been stabbed up to 10 times, the creature, terrified, confused, and fighting for its life, stumbles around with six daggers in its spine, each draped in the colours of its eventual killer – the Matador, who has yet to enter the arena.

Now he enters, to a hero’s reception, oddly adored by the crowd despite his somewhat cowardly role of finishing off a defenseless animal. It’s at this moment that the senselessness of it all really hits me. This man, the ‘heroic’ Matador, doesn’t possess even a fraction of the level of skill that the locals believe he does. I’m stunned by the lack of understanding the locals truly have of the situation unfolding in front of them. Quietly and emotionally, I watch on, secretly hoping for a courageous and unexpected blow from the bull to piece the skin of the Matador or one of his assistants.

However sadly, this didn’t occur. Labouring in breath, exhausted, and defensless, the bull’s fate is sealed. The Matador, after further teasing the bull in its final terrifying moments of life, strikes with his sword and the bull falls. Laying there dying, an assistant then repeatedly stabs it, another 10 or so times. The bull dies, graphically and viciously, resting in a pool of its crimson blood, glimmering in the summer night’s sky.

The euphoric crowd, appreciative of the Matador’s efforts, wave white handkerchieves in appreciation, willing the venue’s President to approve of the killer being awarded the bull’s ears – a momento of the killing. The President agrees, and the bull’s ears are removed and handed to the Matador who completes a lap of honour to an adoring crowd. Brave? No. Barbaric? Absolutely. The bull’s rigid corpse is dragged from the arena by three horses and the blood-stained sand is removed. All is in readiness for the next slaughtering.

This horrific sequence of events is repeated seven times within three hours. On one occasion a bull was able to escape its predetermined demise as it was deemed to be “not aggressive enough”. It exited the arena, however one would confidently assume its death was awaiting outside regardless.

Other acts of cowardly cruelty to occur during the show further frustrated me. At one stage a horse which an assistant was riding upon was flipped over, rammed by a bull repeatedly (about six times), and left stranded on the dirt, kicking and confused. It was lifted upright by a team of assistants, before being forced to fight on momentarily, before it became clear that it was severely injured and allowed to exit the arena. Its fate surely sealed too.

It’s a cruel show and certainly not for the faint hearted. The bulls are systematically weakened before suffering an agonizing, slow death. It most certainly cannot be called a sport. A sport is a contest, between two competing teams, yet every element of this saga had been designed to favour one party – the result was premeditated and the bull’s demise all but certain. What kind of contest has the same result 95% of the time? It is essentially scripted. The jovial, heroic reception for the Matador was not only surprising, it was bewildering. Here, was a man who slayed an animal already on its deathbed, yet being treated like a hero. It was truly amazing, and incredibly frustrating at the same time.

According to the Humane Society International (HSI), approximately 250,000 bulls are killed in Spanish Bullfights every year. It’s a staggering number. Pleasingly, and as witnessed by the lack of younger people at tonight’s event, attendances are at an all-time low and bans have been enacted by several countries and cities around the world. The HSI continues to lobby governments all over the world to enact further bans which will put an end to the cruelty.