Whether you fall into the "adore it" or the "loathe it" camp - and there are none that fall into the gap in-between - bullfighting has always intrigued. Still practiced in many southern Spanish towns, as well as in France, Portugal and in some South American nations, tauromachy, to give the art its proper English name is going through its most difficult afternoon.
The art of bullfighting
The very fact that Spaniards do not consider bullfighting a sport, but rather an art is instructive. Neatly avoiding the necessity for the late Catalan president to have considered it for his IOC's games selection panel (his family are on record as being aficionados), there is no competitive scoring element to the events. Toreadors are judged only in the eyes of the adoring onlookers for the daring, style and derring-do of their swishes and swatches. Admittedly, there may perhaps also be an element of them being judged on other aesthetic levels, as, well they don't tend to resemble Wayne Rooney or Ian Dowie, on that I think we can all agree. Ernest Hemingway said of it in his 1932 non-fiction book Death in the Afternoon: "Bullfighting is the only art in which the artist is in danger of death and in which the degree of brilliance in the performance is left to the fighter's honour."
How it's run:
Banned by the state of Catalonia in 2009, which became the second after the Canary Islands to block the practice of the art form, controversy has dogged the Plazas de Toros of the world for the last fifty years. In Spain, although there are variations of the way in which things are conducted, generally speaking, things run thus:
Bull enters ring and junior toreros stick the bull with short spears and lances in order to weaken it.
Senior toreros perform various balletic moves in very close proximity to the bull, being judged by the crowd for how close and how perfectly they pull off these moves. Cue much oo-ing and ahh-ing.
The matador, the most senior bull fighter, is charged with the estocada or the final single sword thrust which does for the poor toro.
There is no getting away from the fact that this is killing for enjoyment, as opposed to, say, fox-hunting where the apologists argue that foxes are killed as a way of limiting destruction of their livestock and that the fox is killed on sight by the dogs, rather than being chased around an enclosure from which there is no escape from its inevitable and bloody demise. However, there is also no denying that bullfighting runs deep in the hearts and minds of its fans in Spain and elsewhere in the world. It is seen as fundamental to the culture of certain regions, such as Andalucia in southern Spain. Seville is home to the world's oldest bullring (sit down at the back, Birmingham!) with the imposing La Maestranza still occupying a formidable physical and metaphysical presence in the city, standing right next to the old town walls.
The final word rests with Hemingway: "anything capable of arousing passion in its favor will surely raise as much passion against it."