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Bullfighting ban lifted in France, last bastion of the sport

Bullfighting ban lifted in France, last bastion of the sport
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Participants in a Camargue-style fight try to pluck ribbons that adorn the head of a local cow.  (Clémence Losfeld for the Washington Post)
Participants in a Camargue-style fight try to pluck ribbons that adorn the head of a local cow. (Clémence Losfeld for the Washington Post)

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VAUVERT, France — The sound of horns clinking against a metal case could be heard as hundreds of spectators reached a makeshift arena in a pine grove.

While adults indulged in bottles of wine, children hopped through an inflatable amphitheater on a blood-red-eyed plastic bull. Soon Charles Pasquier would be up against a real bull. But the 26-year-old bullfighter appeared relaxed as he worked the crowd before the competition.

Ten years ago an event like this wouldn’t have attracted many people his age, he said. But now “an enormous number of young people are returning,” he wondered. “There is a wave of renewal.”

Although this type of spectacle is on the decline in Spain and Latin America, and although polls show that 77 percent of people in France want to quit bullfighting, the sport is growing in popularity in the south of France. The French National Assembly was due to vote on a ban proposal for the first time on Thursday. But opponents of the ban tried to obstruct the vote with a wave of amendments, and the far-left lawmaker who proposed the ban withdrew it.

While the pullback doesn’t rule out a vote in the coming months, even some animal rights groups admit the chances of a ban are slim as politicians across the political spectrum fear a backlash from rural voters.

A parliamentary justice commission, backed by members of President Emmanuel Macron’s party, recommended against a ban last week. “What’s going to be the next regional tradition we’re going to ban?” asked lawmaker Marie Lebec during the first debate.

Macron hinted to mayors on Wednesday that there would be no ban anytime soon. “We have to move towards a reconciliation, an exchange,” he said. “In my view, that is not a priority at the moment. This issue must be advanced with respect and consideration.”

The debate was whether the French animal welfare law should be changed Remove exceptions for bullfights and cockfights in places where they are “uninterrupted local traditions”.

Critics question the notion of bullfighting as inherently French. Although there are records of bullfights in France in 1289, the bloody Spanish-style corrida, critics note, was imported in the 19th century for the benefit of Napoleon III’s Spanish-born wife.

For a time, competitions flourished across France. Large bullfighting arenas were built Bois de Boulogne Park in Paris and other cities. But only in southern France, near the border with Spain and along the Mediterranean Sea does bullfighting continue today, attracting about 2 million spectators each year, according to the National Observatory of Bullfighting Cultures.

Animal rights activists say the practice has no place in modern times. The cops, they say, who are repeatedly stabbed in the neck and shoulders, are dying slowly and painfully. Between 800 and 1,000 Bulls are killed every year in French competitions.

When Nathalie Valentin once attended a bullfight, she said she was so shocked that she ran out of the arena. “After each sting, the bull reared up. It was awful,” said Valentin, 56. “I didn’t understand why people came to see it.”

But she is in the minority willing to speak out against the practice in her hometown of Nîmes, France’s de facto bullfighting capital. As activists organized nationwide anti-bullfighting demonstrations last weekend, fewer than 50 people turned up outside the city’s Roman amphitheater, where the local bullfights take place. Activists struggled to attract the attention of passers-by as they held up placards depicting dead cops. Their speeches were at times drowned out by a motorcyclist deliberately revving his engine.

Earlier in the day, a pro-bullfighting demonstration a few blocks away drew about eight times as many people. In many cities, rallies were organized or attended by mayors, indicating broad public support.

Mont-de-Marsan mayor Charles Dayot complained to AFP that the far-left lawmaker, who pushed the vote “in a very preachy tone,” wants to explain to us from Paris what is good and bad in the south. ” “

A similar sentiment – ​​about Paris vs. the periphery – was behind the “yellow vest” protests that rocked French politics in 2018 and 2019. And that sentiment may have been in the minds of lawmakers as they considered banning bullfighting.

“If a referendum were held, yes to banning bullfighting would probably win,” confirmed Frédéric Saumade, an anthropologist who supports the competitions. But for him, the French government has a duty to uphold regional rights and traditions, even if the general public does not support them.

Festival-goers in Vauvert last weekend claimed bullfighting was part of their identity – and they weren’t giving up that easily.

“So are we. And I want my kids to live that way,” said Jade Sauvajol, 22. Bullfighting, she added, is part of “the first step of socialization here.”

“It brings people together,” said Benjamin Cuillé, co-president of the French Bullfighting Youth Association.

With the failure of bullfighting bans, the south of France has cemented its status as one of the sport’s last bastions. In Spain, the country that exported its bullfighting traditions to France, the number of bullfights has almost halved in recent years and the practice has been abandoned in the Catalonia region. In Latin America, a combination of court rulings and sponsor withdrawals this year also forced the closure of bullrings in Bogotá and Mexico City, among others.

Bullfighting in France seems to be going in the opposite direction. recorded in Nimes and lynx of viewers going to the competitions this year compared to 2019, even if cinemas and nightclubs remain up to a third emptier than before Covid-19.

Bullfighter Alexis Chabriol, 21, said he grew up in a family opposed to the competitions. But he decided to attend one to form his own opinion. “I thought it was really beautiful,” he said despite all the blood.

The Spanish-style corrida is the best-known form: the bullfighters with colored capes to attract the bull’s attention, usually aiming to kill while impressing the public with their daring.

But bullfighting competitions don’t have to end in blood. In fact, there was no blood at all in the Vauvert Arena last weekend.

The bulls participating in corrida fights are expensive, so organizers tend to reserve the real spectacles for thousands rather than hundreds of spectators. Instead, Pasquier performed in a mock Spanish bullfight known as a “tienta,” also used to train and select bulls for the big fights. Neither he nor the bull were hurt leaving the ring.

Then came the Camargue Competition named after the region where it is practiced. A squad of contestants competed against each other, attempting to pluck ribbons attached not to the horns of a bull but to a local cow. She kicked up grass and mud, groaned, and ran after the men. Sometimes they jumped out of the way just seconds before the cow slammed into the arena’s metal barriers.

Camargue fighting would not have been banned under the proposed law. They tend to be more dangerous to the human participants than to the animals. While some men were limping at the end of the Vauvert Festival, no one appeared to be seriously injured. An ambulance was not required on site.

Surveys show that in French cities where bullfights take place, more than 60 percent of residents may object to bulls being killed. But supporters of bullfighting in the south of France say there is no room for compromise. They want to preserve tradition in all its forms.

“Death is part of life,” said festival organizer Thomas Pagnon, who runs a youth organization defending bullfighting and other traditions.

Lionel Lopez came to the Vauvert festival with his 6- and 11-year-old sons, who lowered a pink cape into the arena and tried to attract the attention of the animals.

For the boys, these were neither the first nor the most violent fights they had seen. Lopez said his original plan was to slowly get his sons used to it by shielding them from the most extreme versions of bullfighting. But after going to a mock competition, his youngest son asked to see a “real bullfight.”

Lopez was introduced to the tradition from a young age, Lopez said, his 6-year-old “now sees the beauty of the spectacle.”

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