Spanish bull-fighting enthusiasts angered coronavirus-weary locals in the city of Villarreal last week with a “bou embolat” event, where social distancing regulations were ignored amidst a large resurgence in COVID-19 infections.
The celebration was filmed at the local bullfighting arena in the city of Villarreal, in the province of Castellon, in the Spanish autonomous community of Valencia, and shared online by NGO AnimaNaturalis on Sunday 18th October.
The footage has angered animal rights activists, who have fought for years to have bullfighting and associated cultural traditions such as the bull with fireballs spectacle banned in Spain, but even more so locals who have complained in local and social media about the blatant disrespect for social distancing measures in the middle of a major health crisis.
Spain is among the European countries hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, and in recent weeks the southern European country has seen a steep rise in new infections after a brief summer respite, as a second wave washes across Europe. So far, 975,000 Spaniards have been reported infected with COVID-19, of those 33,992 have died with the virus, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.
In the Valencia region, the regional government has introduced a social distancing safety distance of 1.5 metres (4.9 feet) to curb infections, and for people older than six years of age it is mandatory to wear a face mask in public, with the exception of at beaches, pools and in nature. Big sports arenas are also exempt, but only when social distancing can be rigorously observed, which was not the case at the fireballs bull event.
The festive activity of placing fireballs on a bull’s horns as it runs around is called ‘bou embolat’ which is Catalan, a local language spoken in Valencia and Catalonia, for “bull with balls”.
The local government had greenlighted the event as part of an initiative to offer support to bullfighting which is suffering great economic losses due to the virus – but under the condition that social distancing guidelines were imposed on guests.
The video show the moment before the large bull is freed to roam the arena with its horns ablaze. Dozens of people stand in a small circle around the tied up bull, shoulder to shoulder, crowding and pacifying the animal while the flammable balls are attached to its horns.
Real Press spoke with AnimaNaturalis Director Aida Gascon who said she is against the “brutal animal cruelty” seen in the video, but at this particular time “there is another important reason to not allow these kinds of celebrations which by their nature, require people to be near each other”.
She said the local government’s decision to grant permission for the event was “very irresponsible”.
“While all of Spain is going through confinement, some areas have given free rein to people who, besides abusing animals, endanger the public health”.
Gascon said a similar bull with fire-horns event is scheduled to take place at the same arena again on 25th October.
“I simply don’t understand it,” she said.
The group intends to collect signatures and launch a social media campaign to try to “pressure the mayor and government to withdraw its permission”, but have decided against a demonstration as it would be detrimental to what they are trying to accomplish, namely responsible behavior during a virus pandemic.
Gascon expects the pandemic to have “strong repercussions” to bullfighting in the country as it relies heavily on public funding.
“The administrations will have to justify their spending, and citizens will not understand why money must be spent on events that generate a lot of social rejection and endanger public health.”
“Bullfighting will survive because there are strong political-economic powers behind it, but it will not reach the same level as before the pandemic,” Ms Gascon predicted. She still hopes, however, that at least one good thing will come of the pandemic: That it will help deliver “the final blow” to end the activity.
According to its website, AnimaNaturalis is an “organisation that works in the defence of animals in Spain and Latin America.”
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Story By: Juan Mayes, Sub-Editor: Joana Mihajlovska, Agency: Real Press
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