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World News

Factbox: Spain's bullfighting tradition stirs debate

MADRID (Reuters) - The Catalonia region of Spain is to vote on a motion to ban bullfighting on Wednesday.

If the motion succeeds in the parliament, bullfighting will end in the area from 2012, closing Barcelona’s last bullring, La Monumental. Catalonia has had an active animal rights movement and anti-bullfighting politicians trying to get the spectacle banned.

Here are some details about bullfighting:

* THE ARGUMENT:

-- According to the Humane Society International approximately 250,000 bulls per year are killed in bullfights.

-- The animals are stabbed multiple times before suffering slow deaths mostly in front of an audience.

-- With attendance at an all-time low, bullfighting is on the decline but still takes place in countries other than Spain.

-- Bullfighting is popular in Portugal and southern France, though in the former, where the bull is engaged by a bullfighter on horseback, and in many bullrings in the latter, it is illegal to kill the bull in the arena. Bullfighting also takes place in Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, and Mexico.

* SOME HISTORY:

-- Bullfighting is very closely associated with Spain and its origins can be traced back to 711, when the first bullfight took place in celebration for the crowning of King Alfonso VIII.

-- Bullfighting was originally a sport for the aristocracy and took place on horseback. King Felipe V took exception to the sport however and banned the aristocracy from taking part, believing it to be a bad example to the public.

-- After the ban commoners accepted the sport as their own and, since they could not afford horses, developed the practice of fighting the bulls on foot, unarmed. This transformation occurred around 1724.

* THE BULLS:

-- The bulls used in the fights are of pedigreed lineage raised on special ranches (ganaderias), the most celebrated being those of Miura, from Sevilla, which have killed more famous matadors than any others.

-- Few bulls are allowed to survive the ring, and the few that do are not used a second time in the ring as their memory is remarkable. Former experience would make subsequent fights too dangerous for the matadors to execute their graceful capework, which is the main reason fans come to the arena.

* THE RING:

-- There were some 600 bullrings in Spain at the beginning of this century, from those in Madrid and Barcelona, seating about 20,000 spectators each, to those in small towns accommodating mere hundreds.

-- The size of the arena floor never varies more than a few yards, those at higher altitudes being smaller than those at sea level to help compensate for altitude fatigue.

-- The Plaza Mexico in Mexico City seats approximately 55,000 spectators and is the largest bullring in the world;

-- The 18th-century Plaza de Acho in Lima, Peru, is one of the oldest arenas; and Sevilla’s Real Maestranza and Madrid’s Plaza Monumental, known as Las Ventas, are the two most prestigious rings. Spain’s oldest bullring from around 1785 is the Neoclassical stone arena in Ronda and is still used.

* MATADORS:

-- Professional bullfighters are called toreros. Their team, or cuadrilla, consists of picadors, the mounted assistants with pikes who lance the bull in the bullfight’s first act; the banderilleros, the assistants on foot who execute the initial capework and place the barbed darts (banderillas) into the bull in the second act. The matadoro works the bull and eventually kills it in the bullfight’s final act.

-- Matador Jose Tomas, who returned to the bull ring in 2008, has often been compared to the greats of bullfighting -- Joselito, Juan Belmonte, Manolete and Antonio Ordonez -- but he also had his detractors who claimed that his performances lacked the purity and clean lines of the classics.

Sources: Reuters/britannica.com/Humane Society International/spain-info.com

Writing by David Cutler, London Editorial Reference Unit

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