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Spain split over banning children from bullfights

SPANISH AFICIONADOS of bullfighting are used to defending their national "fiesta" - please don't call it a sport - against criticisms that it is cruel and barbarous, writes Elizabeth Nash in Madrid.

But their consciences were pricked last week by a Madrid government official who has condemned the colourful but bloody spectacle as unsuitable for children.

The children's spokesman of Madrid's regional government, Javier Urria, said exposure to bullfighting too early in life can cause psychological problems in adulthood and proposes to ban children under 14 from attending. He said that people had complained to him of suffering psychological damage. Mr Urria's comments have outraged the pro-bullfighting camp.

Last month, the Catalans decided to give bullfighting an X certificate, which spurred this week's proposal in Madrid. The issue touches the very roots of Spanish identity, hence the regional government swiftly shunting the matter to a committee of experts and summoning psychological and psychiatric reports.

Mr Urria is caught in a dilemma. "The fiesta of bullfighting embodies undeniable cultural and historical traditions," he said. "However, a corrida is a violent act between an animal and human being, in which the bull suffers and is humiliated with pikes and banderillas.

"I'm not saying that we must hate the bullfight. I'm saying there is an age at which it shouldn't be seen, because it is a spectacle that is damaging to childhood."

Bullfighting supporters claim this is nonsense. "I would say to Mr Urria that the education of my children is my business not his," snorted Manaul Ruiz Sanchez of the Centre of Taurine Affairs, which belongs to the Culture Ministry.

If Mr Urria were really worried about the damage inflicted upon children he should address himself to televised bullfights, said Mr Ruiz Sanchez, which hijack peak-time afternoon viewing throughout the summer season, and rehash the gory bits in lingering slow motion.

The bulls in any case "don't suffer, because they are born and bred for the ring", said Mr Ruiz Sanchez. And as for the gorings that lacerate the groin and belly of bullfighters, who are frequently hauled from the ring gushing torrents of blood - "that comes with the territory, like aviators who fall and kill themselves".

He added he had never seen a child cry in the bull-ring. "On the contrary, many are attracted by the slaughter."

Childhood is a relative concept in Spain, where the age of legal sexual intercourse was raised from 12 to 13 just last year, and the crime of "corruption of minors" is unknown. Spanish parents take responsibility for their offspring, a burden that frequently extends well into adulthood.

Small wonder the regional governor of Madrid, Alberto Ruiz Gallardon, said that any decision "must not be political but based on the opinion of experts. We will consult them before we decide to modify legislation or not".

And thus he neatly shelved the whole thing.