Horns locked over call for matadors to spare the bull

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The Independent Online

Spanish matadors may soon have to change their names. The matador, which in Spanish means killer, may be banned from dispatching bulls in las corridas. Spain's Environment Minister, Cristina Narbona, said that the law should be changed to spare bulls from their traditionally bloody end. Instead, Spain should follow Portugal's example, and hold bullfights without killing the animals.

Ms Narbona's comments have met with immediate opposition from those keen to preserve Spain's controversial national "sport", some from the most unlikely quarters. Bull breeders and left-wing politicians alike locked horns with the minister for pandering to what one called "Anglo-Saxon prejudices".

But animal rights activists and ecologists supported the suggestion, which came after Barcelona's city council announced this week that the city's only bullring may soon have to close because of lack of business.

Ms Narbona told the Spanish daily El Mundo: "We have to try, perhaps in the next legislature, to end this bloody moment at the end of the bullfight.

"There is a growing movement in the European Parliament against bullfights and each time it is harder to defend them."

Ms Narbona said recent legislation introduced by Madrid which brought in jail terms and tough fines for animal cruelty and holding "unauthorised shows", such as cockfighting or illegal greyhound races, should also include bullfights. The level of support the minister has in Spain's ruling Socialist party for her proposal was unclear.

Though outside Spain bullfighting is widely condemned, it is regarded by aficionados not as a bloody spectacle but an art.

But El Mundo speculated that politicians, including the Industry Minister, Joan Clos, would support a ban on killing in bullfights. Mr Clos was the mayor of Barcelona when the city officially declared itself opposed to bullfighting in 2004.

But José Blanco, Socialist party secretary general, said: "This is not part of our policy."

Swift condemnation of Ms Narbona's proposal came from many quarters of the bullfighting lobby. Gaspar Llamazares, leader of the United Left party, said that he opposed a measure which would "incorporate the prejudices of the Anglo-Saxons".

Eduardo Miura, the president of the Spanish Union of Fighting Bull Breeders, asked: "Is this the opinion of the minister or the government?"

Enrique Garza, president of the Association of Organisers of Bullfights, said: "This spurious attitude of the minister goes against the interests of a section of Spaniards." And a bullfighter, Miguel Abellan, said: "They want to end bullfighting little by little." But Consuelo Polo, spokeswoman for Ecologists in Action, applauded the minister's suggestion. "This is an open window to hope. What we have lacked is a brave and dignified government who can finish with this macabre fiesta for once and for all," she said.

This week, owners of Barcelona's last working bullring announced they were to close after suffering mounting losses.

Bullfight promoters at the Monumental Plaza de Toros said they lost more than €28,000 (£16,000) each time they held a bullfight, owing to falling attendance.

The only other major bullring, Las Arenas, is being transformed into a leisure centre by the British architect, Lord Rogers. Takings from bullfights have been falling in recent years because of the expense of putting on las corridas. And a recent poll revealed that its popularity was waning among Spaniards.

According to a Gallup survey in October, only 27 per cent of Spaniards expressed any interest in bullfighting, while a total of 72 per cent declared no interest whatsoever.

Bullfighting saw its popularity peak in the early Seventies, as prosperity grew and going to see los toros was seen as a sign of this new-found wealth after years of hardship.