In France, the ban on bullfighting, the last bastion of the sport, has been lifted

In France, the ban on bullfighting, the last bastion of the sport, has been lifted
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Fighting Camargue style, competitors try to tear off the ribbons that decorate the head of the local cow.  (Clémence Losfeld for The Washington Post)
Fighting Camargue style, competitors try to tear off the ribbons that decorate the head of the local cow. (Clémence Losfeld for The Washington Post)


VAUVERT, France – As hundreds of spectators poured into the makeshift arena in the Pine Garden, horns blared against the metal enclosure.

While adults enjoyed glasses of wine, children rode through an inflated amphitheater on a plastic bull with blood-red eyes. Soon Charles Pasquier would face a real bull. But the 26-year-old bullfighter looked relaxed ahead of the bout as he engaged with the crowd.

10 years ago, such an event would not have attracted many people his age, he said. But now “a lot of young people are coming back,” he marveled. “There is a wave of renewal.”

Although such spectacles are on the decline in Spain and Latin America, and polls show that 77 percent of people in France want an end to bullfighting, the sport is growing in popularity in the south of France. The French National Assembly was expected to vote on the proposed ban for the first time on Thursday. But opponents of the ban moved to block the vote with a wave of amendments, and the far-left MP who proposed the ban withdrew it.

While the withdrawal does not rule out a vote in the coming months, even some animal rights groups admit the ban’s chances are slim, as politicians across the political spectrum fear a backlash from rural voters.

A parliamentary legal commission backed by members of President Emmanuel Macron’s party recommended against the ban last week. “What will be the next regional tradition we outlaw?” MP Marie Lebeck asked during the preliminary discussion.

On Wednesday, Macron suggested to an audience of mayors that there would be no ban anytime soon. “We have to go to reconciliation, exchange,” he said. “From my point of view, it’s not a priority right now. This topic should be advanced with respect and attention.”

Up for debate was whether to amend France’s animal welfare law removing exceptions to bullfighting and cockfighting where there are “continuous local traditions”.

Critics question the quintessentially French concept of bullfighting. Although there is a record bull run in France in 1289, the bloody Spanish-style running was introduced in the 19th century to benefit the Spanish wife of Napoleon III.

For a while, racing flourished in France. Large bullrings were built Bois de Boulogne park In Paris and other cities. Today, however, bullfighting continues only in the south of France, near the border with Spain and along the Mediterranean Sea, attracting about 2 million spectators each year, according to the National Observatory of Bullfighting Cultures.

Animal rights activists say this practice has no place in modern times. Stabbed repeatedly in the neck and shoulder, bulls die slowly and painfully. Between 800 and 1000 bulls are killed every year in the French competitions.

Once Nathalie Valentin said that she was so shocked when she participated in a bullfight that she ran away from the arena. “After each stab, the bull stood up. It was terrible,” says 56-year-old Valentine. “I didn’t understand why people came to see him.”

But he is among the few willing to speak out against the practice in Nimes, France’s de facto bullfighting capital. When activists across the country staged anti-bullfighting demonstrations last weekend, fewer than 50 people gathered outside the city’s Roman amphitheater, where local bullfights are held. Activists held up placards of dead bulls and struggled to attract the attention of pedestrians. Their speech was sometimes drowned out by a motorcyclist who deliberately revved his engine.

A few blocks away earlier in the day, a pro-bullfighting demonstration drew nearly eight times as many people. In many cities, rallies were held in favor or broad public support was offered with the participation of mayors.

Charles Dayot, the mayor of Mont-de-Marsan, complained to Agence France-Presse that the far-left lawmaker pushing the vote “wants to tell us from Paris in a very spiritual tone what is good or bad in this country. The south.”

A similar idea – against Paris. periphery — was behind the “yellow vest” protests that rocked French politics in 2018 and 2019. And that sentiment may have been in the minds of legislators regarding the ban on bullfighting.

“If a referendum were to be held, it would probably win a ‘yes’ vote to ban bullfighting,” said FrĂ©dĂ©ric Saumade, an anthropologist who supports the competitions. But in his view, the French government has a duty to protect regional rights and traditions, even if the wider public does not support them.

Last weekend’s festival goers in Vauvert claimed bullfighting was part of their identity – and they weren’t letting it be taken away easily.

“That’s how we are. I want my children to live like this,” said 22-year-old Jade Sauvajol. He added that bullfighting is part of “the first step of socialization here.”

“It brings people together,” said Benjamin CuillĂ©, co-president of the French bullfighting youth association.

With the failure of the bullfighting ban, the south of France cemented its status as one of the sport’s last bastions. In Spain, which exported bullfighting traditions to France, the number of competitions has almost halved in recent years, and the practice has been abandoned in the Catalonia region. In Latin America this year, a combination of court rulings and sponsor withdrawals have led to the closure of bullrings in Bogotá and Mexico City, among other places.

In France, bullfighting goes in the opposite direction. Nimes noted rising Despite movie theaters and nightclubs being a third emptier than before the pandemic, the number of spectators going to competitions this year compared to 2019.

Alexis Chabriol, a 21-year-old bullfighter, said he grew up in a family that was opposed to competitions. But he decided to attend one to make up his mind. “I found it really cool,” he said, despite all the blood.

Spanish-style running is the most well-known form: bullfighters who use colorful hats to attract the bull’s attention, usually aiming for the kill and impressing spectators with their prowess.

But bullfights don’t have to end in blood. In fact, there was no blood at all in the Vauvert arena last weekend.

The bulls involved in racing fights are expensive, so organizers tend to reserve the real spectacles for thousands of spectators rather than hundreds. Instead, Pasquier performed in a mock Spanish bullfight known as a “tienta,” which is used to train and select bulls for big fights. Neither he nor the bull was injured when he left the ring.

Then it came Camargue the competition is named after the region where it is applied. The team of participants tried to tear off the ribbons attached to the horns of a local cow, not a bull. She grunted and kicked up grass and mud as she ran after the men. Sometimes they jumped out of the way seconds before the cow crashed into the arena’s metal barriers.

Camargue fights would not be banned under the proposed law. They are more dangerous to human participants than to animals. At the end of the Vauvert festival, while some men were left limping, no one was seriously injured. No local ambulance was needed.

Surveys show that in French cities where bullfights are held More than 60 percent may oppose the killing of bulls by the inhabitants. But bullfighting supporters in the south of France say there is no room for compromise. They want to preserve the tradition in all its forms.

“Death is part of life,” said festival organizer Thomas Pagnon, who heads a youth organization that defends bullfighting and other traditions.

Lionel Lopez came to the Vauvert festival with his 6- and 11-year-old sons and lowered a pink hat into the arena, trying to attract the attention of the animals.

For the boys, these were neither the first nor the most violent battles they had ever seen. Lopez said he plans to gradually train his voice at first, shielding it from the most extreme versions of bullfighting. But after going to a mock competition, her younger son wanted to see a “real bullfight”.

Lopez, who was introduced to the tradition at an early age, said her 6-year-old now “sees the beauty of the show.”

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