Bullfighting at seven-year high in Spain as young people drive its resurrection
Young people in Spain have taken an interest in one of the country’s more traditional pastimes.
The number of bullfights being held in the country is at its highest level in seven years, and their most consistent attendees are 15 to 19-year-olds.
Bullfighting is now considered a minority interest, with just under 2% of Spaniards attending a fight during the 2021-22 season, according to figures from the country’s culture ministry.
And there are young people taking up the sport as well as watching it – despite calls from the UN to ban children from watching, to shield them from ‘exposure to violence’.
Alvaro Alarcon, aged 24 and from Madrid, was practicing the moment he enters the city’s Las Ventas bullring for his final challenge as a ‘novillero’, or apprentice.
He must kill two bulls by driving a sword through their shoulder blades, which punctures their aortas.
If he wins, he’ll be considered for the highest rank of ‘matador’.
Alvaro said: ‘From the moment you get up until you go to bed, and even when you are asleep, you are dreaming about what you want to do in the bullring.
‘Being a bullfighter is a way of life.
‘I loved motorbikes, and anything related to extreme sports.
‘I had never even seen a bull until I watched a documentary about bullfighting aged 13, and discovered this beautiful profession.’
During Alvaro’s final fight as a novillero, he was gored by a bull and left with three broken ribs.
Following surgery, he texted: ‘I’ll be back in the ring very soon.’
Miriam Cabas, 21, is one of just 250 women who are registered as professional bullfighters in the country.
Hailing from the southern Andalusia region, she has watched the demographic of the crowds shift since she was watching the events as a child.
Miriam said: ‘It is true that bullfighting has decreased, but right now, I perceive that the youth is booming and people are eager to know and go to the bullrings.’
Young fans were outraged last year by the Spanish government’s attempt to exclude bullfighting from a 400 Euro (£355) subsidy given to 18-year-olds to spend on cultural activities.
A legal case, brought by a bullfighting association, found against the government in Spain’s Supreme Court.
Their argument rested on the fact that bullfighting is protected as cultural patrimony by decades-old legislation, passed to ensure its survival.
And bullfighting is more than just the matadors in the ring – the industry employs thousands of ranchers, event organisers, promoters, and tailors who craft the ‘traje de luces’, or suit of lights, bullfighters wear.
Africa Calderon Garcia, 20, is a seamstress in Madrid who grew up attending bullfights with her grandmother.
Though she cares deeply for animals she says she will continue to watch the fights, adding: ‘It is an art form, it is Spanish culture.
‘People are not aware of all the work that goes on behind it and how well cared for the animals are.’
Some of the most famous bullrings in Barcelona, Benidorm and Santa Cruz de Tenerife has closed down since the 1970s, being reopened instead as shopping centres and even nightclubs.
But for Antonio Lopez Fuentes, a master tailor and Africa’s boss, the government’s action was just the latest attempt that many have tried to stamp out bullfighting over hundreds of years in Spanish history.
He said: ‘The young think, “if you are trying to ban me from something, I am going to do it”.’
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