Body Count Soars In Spanish Bullfighting’s Summer Of Blood

Spanish newspapers are wondering whether bullfighting will be banned after a record summer of deaths and injuries.


Francisco Rivera Ordonez stood in the centre of the bullfighting ring, dressed in a shimmering “suit of lights,” just as his father had 30 years before. Ordonez and his father shared more than their profession as matadors, however. Like his father, Ordonez went by the nickname Paquirri. And like his father, Ordonez was about to be gored.

Ordonez stared across the dirt ring toward a 450-kilogram bull, blood dripping from thebanderillas already embedded in its hulking black shoulders. With a flick of his wrists, Ordonez beckoned the beast towards his bright pink and yellow cape. But at the last second, the bull veered away from the cape and into the matador’s body, its 30-centimetre-long horn burying itself in Ordonez’s abdomen.

And just like that, another Paquirri spilled his blood alongside the bulls.

As horrified onlookers in the Spanish city of Huesca gaped at the Aug. 10 bloodshed, a group of men rushed Ordonez out of the ring and to a hospital. Among them: a one-eyed bullfighter named Juan Jose Padilla, his eye patch a result of his own goring four years before.

For bullfighting fanaticos, the goring of men like Ordonez, his father or Padilla are grim but legendary moments in an ancient and blood-soaked tradition. For opponents of bullfighting, however, Ordonez’s injury could be equally historic. That’s because the goring of yet another Paquirri is stirring old questions about the sport, but in an age — and a country — that is increasingly against the practice of killing bulls for pleasure.

“The beginning of the end of bullfighting?” asked newspaper El Diario after Ordonez’s injury, noting that two Spanish regions have already outlawed the sport.

One reason Ordonez’s goring has stirred such strong emotions in Spain is that it came during what appeared to be the country’s bloodiest week of bullfighting ever. At least eight people have died while running with the bulls this summer alone, according to European media reports. In the 90 years between 1924 and 2014, 15 people died, according to the Independent.

In towns across Spain, summer festivals are marked by the “corrida,” or running, of bulls through town and to the bullfighting ring, where matadors dispatch the animals with banderillas and swords.

In the past two months, however, bulls have gored men to death in the streets or rings of Penafiel and Toledo, Lerin and Valencia, Murcia, Castellon and Alicante. Four of the men died the weekend of Aug. 15-16, the BBC reported. The same weekend, another bullfighter was gored. Saul Jimenez Fortes was performing in the tiny Salamancan town of Vitigudino when a bull caught him under the chin.

Both Fortes and Ordonez are expected to survive their injuries. (Ordonez’s father wasn’t so lucky, perishing in 1984 after doctors were unable to treat his wounds.) But even if both bullfighters survive, their sport might not.

In 2010, Catalonia became the second Spanish province to ban bullfighting, after the Canary Islands. Nearly 200,000 Catalonians signed a petition demanding the ban.

It’s a debate that has raged for decades, if not longer. Many Spaniards consider bullfighting a tradition that reaches back through the centuries. Many others, however, call it barbarism best left to the Middle Ages.

Even if bullfighting is dying in Spain, it is hardly dead. Last year more than 7,200 bulls or calves were killed in rings across the country, according to El Diario. The sport gained popularity among Americans after it was praised by Ernest Hemingway in his non-fiction book Death in the Afternoon. Hemingway argued that bullfighting tapped into Spanish culture’s essential “interest in death.” Many Spaniards were interested in death, he wrote, “and when they can see it being given, avoided, refused and accepted in the afternoon for a nominal price of admission they pay their money and go to the bull-ring.”

Calling bullfighting “a decadent art in every way,” Hemingway said a matador “must have a spiritual enjoyment of the moment of killing. Killing cleanly and in a way which gives you esthetic pleasure and pride has always been one of the greatest enjoyments of a part of the human race.”

After eight human deaths in one summer, however, Spain’s “interest in death” is now being tested.

The latest gorings have also rekindled criticism from abroad.

After Fortes’s injury, British comedian and animal rights activist Ricky Gervais uploadeda video to Facebook in which he said he rooted for the bull to win.

“The truth is I do prefer the bull to win,” he said. “I’d rather you didn’t fight a bull, but if you do — if you choose to torture an animal to death for fun — I hope it defends itself.

“Self-defence is no offence.”