Eight deaths shine spotlight on Spain’s bull running festivals

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A record-matching yearly toll of eight deaths has put the spot light on Spain’s bull runs.

Politicians and animal rights defenders have been criticising the popular summer festivals held in many Spanish towns.

A steer fatally gored a 60-year-old man in Alalpardo last week, while a 73-year-old French woman – a regular in bull events – died in Beniarbeig after being gored in the chest last month.

Six men were fatally gored in other Valencia festivals and more than 380 participants have been injured – with the bull running season not ending until November.

A reveller tempts a bull during a running of the bull festival in the village of Atanzon, central Spain
A reveller tempts a bull during a running of the bull festival in the village of Atanzon, central Spain (Bernat Armangue/AP)

“Some people have lost any fear of the bull,” said regional emergency chief José María Angel.

He urged revellers to be more careful — the primary recommendation to come out a safety review meeting.

Valencia regional government deputy president Aitana Mas left the door open for a debate on whether to ban these kinds of fiestas, saying the current legislation is “not enough”.

Only a few villages have cancelled such festivals.

Tavernes de la Valldigna is one – and sees it as a matter of staying in step with its policy of defending animal rights.

A bull roams around a square as revellers tempt him in Atanzon
A bull roams around a square as revellers tempt him in Atanzon (Bernat Armangue/AP)

While the public debate in Spain has largely focused on the loss of human lives, activists are demanding a total ban on events where animals are used for entertainment.

Animal rights groups are particularly opposed to events they say are deliberately more cruel to the animals, such as when cotton balls are lit on the horns of bulls or when the animal is forced into the sea and then brought back to shore.

Events known in the Valencian dialect as Bous al carrer – or Bulls on the street – involve bulls or calves released into the streets where they are provoked into charging but crowds.

Alejandro Cano, president of Defence of Bous al Carrer Associations, does not see cause any for alarm, telling the AP the casualties are “part of the festival”.

Some bulls are fought and killed by matadors but most return to their farms.

A bull chases revellers in Atanzon
A bull chases revellers in Atanzon (Bernat Armangue/AP)

The amount was reduced compared to a regular season due to some pandemic restrictions still in place.

In 2019, there were 17,000.

This year, around 9,000 are expected to take place until the end of November.

Pamplona’s San Fermin running of the bulls, immortalised by Literature Nobel Prize winner and novelist Ernest Hemingway, is the prime event but there has not been a death there in 13 years.

Safety measures, public investment and the professionalism of the runners are unmatched in any other smaller Spanish festival.

Atanzon will continue celebrating its patron saint, San Agustin, in the same fashion as Pamplona does — praying to the saint that no one is killed by bulls for another summer.

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