The Running of the Balls: And that’s no bull

The Running of the Balls: And that’s no bull

On August 24, Mataelpino, a town in central Spain near Madrid, is holding its annual “Running of the Bulls” festival but with a twist. For the eighth year running, the bulls have been replaced with 3-meter wide, 200-kilogram polystyrene balls.

Considered one of the best events to attend in 2019 in Spain, the “Running of the Balls” or “Boloencierro” might sound like a tame affair but being trampled by 200 kilos of runaway mass bearing down on you – be it bull or ball – is no laughing matter, and participants risk serious injury and broken bones.

A change in Spanish law took place in 2017 relating to the banning of bullfighting in the Balearic Islands. This lead to more humane alternatives to such events as the Running of the Bulls as well as bullfights. However, this law was overturned and this past weekend gave witness to the first bullfight in Mallorca in 2 years.

The “Bloodless Bullfights” law did not allow weapons to be used or for the bull to suffer physically or psychologically. It was considered a victory for both animal welfare activists and those who fervently argued that the “sport” of bullfighting was an inherent part of Spanish culture.

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The Running of the Balls: And that’s no bull

Support for bullfighting and similar activities is dramatically dwindling. An online poll by Ispos MORI found that only 19% of adults aged 16-65 in Spain support bullfighting, compared to 58% who oppose it. Bullfighting events continue to fall. In the 10-year period 2007-2017, the number of bullfighting and similar festivities that end with the death of the animals declined by 57.5% according to latest figures by AVATMA (Association of Abolitionist Veterinarians of Bullfighting and Animal Abuse).

Despite the overturned bans on bullfights (corridas) in Catalonia and the Balearic Islands, there has been an overall notable decline in Spanish cultural festivities which traditionally involved animals. According to PETA, more than 100 towns have banned bullfighting. Other towns are also making changes to their traditional cultural events to become more cruelty-free.

Other positive changes include the banning of one of the most polemic fiestas, the “Toro de la Vega” festival in Castilla y Leon, earlier this year.  The ban on the 500-year old barbaric and inhumane “tradition” of torturing and killing a young bull with spears and darts in the town of Tordesillas, has been upheld by the Supreme Court this past March.

These victories, and others, against animal cruelty, are part of a wider movement in Spain as more and more people are speaking out against festivals and other events in which bulls and other animals are tortured or killed in the name of entertainment.

Jannich Friis Petersen, CEO of Spain-Holiday.com, believes holidaymakers can make a difference. He stated: “The majority of overseas holidaymakers visiting Spain look to experience most every aspect of Spanish lifestyle and culture, but there seems to be a shift within Spain away from these traditions.”

He firmly believes that the travel and tourism industry has a part to play in making changes to these traditions, adding, “Following the success of the Running with Balls event in Mataelpino, the more people that say ‘Balls to Bulls!,’ we will see festivities involving animals dying out completely or adapting more modern traditions.”

The Observatorio Justicias y Defensa Animal, an animal welfare organization stated: “Many festivals could be enjoyed and the traditions observed without the need for ‘mistreating and killing animals.’ Today, more than ever, a state law is needed to expressly prohibit the use of animals in village fiestas.”

The most famous bull-running event still takes place with live animals in the San Fermin Running of the Bulls which takes place in July in Pamplona.