Balearians have been quite cunning with this one.

On Monday 24th July 2014 the Parliament of the Balearic Islands, a devolved nation within Spain in the Mediterranean Sea which includes Majorca, Menorca and Ibiza, passed a new Act to regulate bullfighting within the framework of the islands’ animal protection legislation. The vote was passed with 33 votes in favour, 19 against and two abstentions.

But regulation is not a ban, you may say. Well, you are correct, but let me explain. Those politicians and NGOs who have been promoting this law were aiming for a complete ban on all types of bullfighting, but in 2016 something happened that made them pause and regroup.

Last year the Spanish Constitutional Court declared, after years of deliberation, that the bullfighting ban that had been in place in Catalonia (another devolved nation) since 2010 was unconstitutional. This verdict had very little effect in Catalonia as the Catalan Government, backed by their Parliament, are firm supporters of the ban, so they said that they would ignore the Spanish court ruling and keep the ban “no matter what”.

However this ruling made those politicians in the neighbouring Balearic Islands, who were trying to get a ban on very much the same terms as in Catalonia, think tactically to see if they could achieve the same result but without the threat of the Spanish Constitutional Court. And they found a way.

They realised that one of the main arguments of the Court was that although it recognised that Catalonia had the power to regulate bullfighting, it claimed no devolved nation has the power to ban it since bullfighting was declared a Spanish national “cultural” asset a few years ago. So here is the clever bit: what about creating a regulation that modifies bullfighting to such an extreme that the bullfighters themselves decide it is no longer worth organising a bullfight anymore? And they did exactly that!

The new regulations change many things:

  • For starters killing the bull is now banned; something that many bullfighters will say is essential.
  • It also bans injuring the bull in any way, which means that the use of the traditional barbed harpoons (banderillas), and lances (pica), both weapons used to wound and weaken the bull prior the kill, will now be prohibited.
  • It reduces the time the bull will be in the arena from 20-30 minutes to 10.
  • It reduces the number of bulls in a bullfight from six to three, which means that the entire bullfight will only last 30 minutes (and therefore unlikely to be cost effective for a bullfighting promoter).
  • It bans the use of bulls under four years old, which means that a series of types of bullfights with young bulls (becerradas, novilladas, etc) will now be banned.
  • It bans bullfights in mobile bullrings (like circuses).
  • Bullfights where the bull has not rested at least 48 hours after transport from mainland Spain will no longer be allowed.
  • It also makes it compulsory to have a vet examine the bull after the event to ensure that it has not been hurt in any way.
  • It bans the attendance of people under 18 years of age (a big deal for the industry as this is the only way they can recruit new aficionados).
  • And for good measure, they added a ban on the selling of alcohol!

Unsurprisingly bullfighters have already said that all these changes would make it impossible to stage cost effective bullfights in the islands anymore, which means that this regulation may turn out to be, in effect, a kind of “indirect” ban. Clever, eh?!

Additionally, with this new law the Balearic Islands Parliament has also banned the use of animals in circuses and the cruel sport of pigeon shooting. Quite good going…

What happens next? Of course there will be legal challenges, and the Spanish Constitutional Court will have to think hard if they want to find a way to try to stop this one, but this is quite a good move by the anti-bullfighting movement, because if it works and no more bullfights are staged in the islands, other devolved nations in Spain may try to do the same.

At the moment, we have three devolved nations within Spain with bans of different types, but still 15 more to go…. And then Portugal, France, Colombia, Venezuela, Peru, Ecuador, USA and Mexico, all of them countries with very strong anti-bullfighting movements that have already won the support of the majority of the population.

Finding what works in each region, one step at the time, until bullfighting is no longer practiced anywhere in the world.

That’s the way to do it!


Photo 'Plaza de toros de Mallorca' by Andrés Alvarado. used under a Creative Commons licence: Attribution-ShareAlike 2.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 2.0)