A wave of bull rider deaths focuses on Spanish festivals


MADRID – The fear-infused cries of excitement as bulls charge through the streets of many Spanish towns during hugely popular summer festivals echo in stark contrast to the number of people who have died from gored this year.

Bullfights may be a popular sight for locals and visitors to thousands of summer festivals across Spain, but this year’s gruesome and record-breaking toll of eight deaths has pushed politicians and campaigners animal rights to criticize this practice.

There were no deaths or injuries in Atanzón when revelers on foot and on horseback recently ran with the rampaging animal. But last week in Alalpardo, less than an hour away, an ox fatally gored a 60-year-old man.

A week earlier, a 73-year-old Frenchwoman who was a regular at bullfighting events died in the eastern town of Beniarbeig after being gored in the chest. Six men were fatally gored at other festivals in Valencia and more than 380 attendees were injured. The season does not end until November.

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Despite the concern, authorities seem unsure what additional security measures they can take.

“Some people have lost all fear of the bull,” says regional emergency chief José María Angel. He urges revelers to be more careful – the main recommendation to pull out a safety review meeting.

The vice-president of the regional government of Valencia, Aitana Mas, has left the door open to the debate on whether to ban this type of party, saying that the current legislation is “not sufficient”.

Only a few villages have canceled these festivals. Tavernes de la Valldigna is one that has done so and sees it as a matter of staying in step with its animal rights policy.

“I hope our decision will take the debate further to the streets and lead to the end of this tradition,” Mayor Sergi González told The Associated Press, while acknowledging the tradition’s deep cultural roots.

While public debate in Spain has largely focused on the loss of life, activists are calling for a total ban on events where animals are used for entertainment.

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Animal rights groups are particularly opposed to events they deem deliberately crueler to animals, such as when cotton balls are lit on the horns of bulls or when the animal is forced into the sea and then brought ashore.

Events known in the Valencian dialect as “Bous al carrer” (bulls in the street) involve bulls or calves being released into the streets to waiting crowds who attempt to provoke them into charging.

Alejandro Cano, president of the defense associations of Bous al Carrer, sees no reason for alarm, telling the AP that the victims are “part of the festival”.

Some bulls are fought and killed by matadors but most return to their farms.

According to the Ministry of Culture, some 2,700 such performances took place last year. The amount was reduced from a regular season due to some pandemic restrictions still in place. In 2019, there were 17,000. This year, around 9,000 should take place until the end of November.

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The San Fermin bullfight in Pamplona, ​​immortalized by Nobel Prize winner and novelist Ernest Hemingway, is the main event, but there has been no death for 13 years. The security measures, the public investment and the professionalism of the runners are unmatched in any other small Spanish festival.

Atanzón will continue to celebrate its patron saint, San Agustín, in the same way as Pamplona – praying to the saint that no one be killed by bulls for another summer.

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