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Fighting Bullfighting - time to ban killing bulls for fun

Sadly with bullfighting making a return to Spanish television we need to work harder to end this dreadful practice.

Bullfighting is a barbaric and pointlessly cruel mistreatment of an animal for sporting enjoyment.

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Bullfights cause the death of the bull, traumatise the horses ridden by the spear-wielding Picadors and often cause the death of horses injured by the bull. There is little doubt many of the people involved in the practice, including the Matadors, also greatly suffer psychologically from their involvement with this barbaric practice.

Recently I received another photo through social media depicting the moment a Spanish Matador broke down mid-fight as the full realisation of the cruelty of this 'traditional entertainment' dawned on him. It was a moving image that highlighted the basic barbarity of the practice and how it damages all involved.

Sadly, many do not accept bullfighting's cruelty and it has been a part of European culture, particularly in northern Spain and southern France for hundreds of years. The now traditional on-foot form has been most prevalent the since the early Eighteenth Century but stadium bullfighting is not the only Spanish 'cultural' practice that kills animals. Recently, the annual 'Toreno del Toro de la Vega' tournament was held in the central Spanish town of Tordesillas. This involves the slaughter of a bull that has been driven into a meadow outside of the town by people on horseback and on foot. The bull is eventually speared to death. During the run, the lancers can only wound rather than kill the unfortunate animal. Similar to Pamplona's Running of the Bulls where the animals are fought in the run.

Supporters of these activities argue they are culturally important forms of performance art and should be considered alongside painting, sculpture and music. To the rest of us bullfighting is nothing more than a bloodsport causing significant suffering for animals who endure the stress of a slow, torturous death for the enjoyment of spectators.

These practices should be a historic anachronism described in history books in similar tones as ancient Rome's gladiatorial tournaments where armed gladiators fought each other but also took on animals including lions, tigers and bulls. Sadly, this is not the case.

Bullfighting remains a legal part of Spanish life and recently France's Constitutional Council rejected an attempt by animal rights campaigners to have the activity listed as 'cruelty against animals'. The BBC reports animal rights activists are now considering taking their case to the European Court of Human Rights.

It is not all bad news - animal welfare regulations are the responsibility of each Spanish regional government – and some have banned the practice. Bullfighting is now illegal in Catalonia after decision-makers there outlawed it, so Barcelona in December 2011 hopefully staged its last bullfight.

For many Spanish decision-makers the issue is whether it can ever be good public policy to promote the infliction of pain on an animal and then its killing for fun despite claims to 'traditional practice'. Compounding the challenge for decision-makers in economically struggling Spain is the view, while contentious, that bullfights still attract foreign tourists and their money. This makes any pitch for further extensions of the bullfighting ban difficult as politicians are reluctant to risk being seen as limiting chances to bring tourism money into their communities.

Economic considerations have rarely been more pressing for Spain. Its economy is a basket-case, suffering from shockingly high levels of unemployment – currently 24.6% but most worryingly youth unemployment is 53%. That is around 5.7 million people unemployed. Catalonia is hardest hit with a massive 33.9% unemployed, making the decision to ban the practice there even more admirable.

It is concerning too that bullfighting has been back on Spanish television since September after a six year suspension. TV audiences had been declining for some time and events are often scheduled during prime children's viewing time meaning practices classified as 'cruelty against animals' could not be broadcast. This changed when the conservative Popular Party returned to power in 2011 and made changes to the board of Spain's national broadcaster resulting in bullfighting being reclassified and no longer listed as 'violence against animals'.

Thankfully bullfighting is not universally popular in Spain. Research from newspaper El Pais suggests 60% of Spanish oppose the practice, while in France a recent poll suggests 48% of people support an outright ban but most polling in recent times has this figure tracking closer to 66% public support for a ban.

There are pressures too to reassess the often significant public funds made available to support and promote bullfighting in Spain and question whether this government money – it is in the millions of Euros - could not be better spent elsewhere. I think it could.

Europe has been responsible for so many great animal welfare and environmental achievements it is a shame the barbaric practice of killing bulls for fun continues to tarnish that record. Spanish and French decision-makers should heed the message from the overwhelming majority of their citizens and outlaw this terrible practice.

RONAN_LEERonan Lee is a political consultant and former Greens MP and adviser. He has traveled extensively in Burma, observing the 2010 elections and meeting Aung San Suu Kyi in the days following her release from house arrest. A long-time vegetarian he advocated in Parliament for people to eat less meat because of the environmental benefits associated with this. He blogs and sometimes tweets.

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