Whilst on holiday in Spain I had the opportunity to see what local papers were saying about the recent ban in Barcelona on bullfighting. The very idea that Spain might be banning what the world had thought of as its national sport seemed almost impossible — that is, until you remember what they paid for David Beckham. Maybe bullfighting isn’t the draw it was, either for tourists or locals.
The press began by noting that cock fighting, bear baiting, bull baiting and dog fighting were, like bullfighting, once far more widespread, but across Europe a growing horror of such cruelty to animals had gradually reached everywhere.
The bull doesn’t naturally fight. It’s a gentle herbivore, and, as a domesticated animal, has been bred over hundreds of generations for its gentleness. All idea of fighting is foreign to it. The cows allow us to milk them, and cattle have been our best friends for thousands of years. It doesn’t ‘fight’ at all until lances have been hurled into its back. There is no contest in taking a sword to such a creature. It’s like taking a machine gun to a boy who throws stones.
In Spain, bullfighting had become identified with extreme right wing, oppressive government. It had come to symbolise the oppression of ordinary people, of minorities, of those who were different. So, it was unsurprising that the Catalans, whose language and whose culture had been suppressed in Franco’s time should see themselves as such an minority, and side with the noble, suffering bull, rather than with the murderous weapons of the bullfighter in his suit of lights.
Oppressive regimes glory in portraying punishment and killing as a sign of their power. This is what was at the heart of the circuses of ancient Rome. Ritualised execution in such a state could be the fate of anyone who was different, as Christian martyrs of the first, third or 20th century have testified.
Sports which involve killing brutalise those who take part, and all those who watch.
Now, the Catalans appear to have had enough. In a secret ballot which probably surprised everyone, they outlawed the old national sport. I expect they will be followed by similar votes from people in the other marginalized areas of Spain, and eventually the whole nation will turn against the blood lust of this barbaric sport.
And when they do, we shall need to ask ourselves whether, in order to demonstrate that ours, too, is a civilised society, and part of a modern Europe with decent values, we should ban the sport of hunting wild creatures with dogs.