A load of bull

A couple of weeks ago, SUR in English published a letter by a reader named John Fitzgerald that contained some entirely unsubstantiated claims about the modern Spanish bullfight. In particular, Mr Fitzgerald - citing no sources for his hefty accusations - said that fighting bulls are frequently harmed before entering the ring.

According to Mr Fitzgerald, fighting bulls in Spanish bullrings are weakened by being “beaten over the kidneys” before the bullfight begins. In all the twenty years that I have been studying and following the bullfight - watching it, reading about it, grappling with its moral complexities, discussing it with experts - I have never heard of this alleged offence being committed in modern, professional bullfights. I am therefore intrigued as to how Mr Fitzgerald apparently discovered that it is a widespread practice in modern bullfighting.

Likewise with his equally unsubstantiated claim that the bulls have Vaseline rubbed in their eyes beforehand so that their sight is impaired. If either of these claims were true, most aficionados of the bullfight would justifiably be outraged, as the bull is a revered and respected protagonist of the spectacle. Yet the reason Mr Fitzgerald is unable to offer any evidence for his charges is because such practices would be impossible to get away with in Spain's top bullrings.

Fighting bulls are examined by specially-trained vets before they are judged in good enough condition for the bullfight (any serious book on modern bullfighting will contain more information about these examinations). And when they come out of the gates into the ring, they are immediately replaced with a fitter animal if there is any sign that they are not in peak condition. I have seen this happen many times in Spanish bullrings. If a bull came out of the pens in the condition that Mr Fitzgerald suggests - half blind, badly winded, unable to sight and chase the capes - it would be sent back to the corrales, unharmed, within minutes. The bullfight would be impossible with an animal in such terrible condition.

Perhaps in amateur village fiestas, bullfighters and farmers are not as diligent as they are in professional bullfighting (nor the public so unforgiving). And if such disgusting practices do occur at un-regulated bullfights, they ought to be prevented. But it is simply not true that the bull is damaged before bullfights in Spain's top bullrings.