Never a Fair Fight

18/07/2016 13:06 | Updated 18 July 2016

This week the death of matador Victor Barrio in Spain has cast a spotlight on the so called 'sport' of bullfighting. Mr Barrio's death has provoked reaction and opinion across both media headlines and social media alike, raising the ultimate question - Does bullfighting even belong in a civilised 21st century or should it be consigned to the history books once and for all?

Despite its name implying a fair fight between willing opponents, bullfighting is never fair. Unlike the matador, the bull doesn't have a choice whether or not to enter the ring but only to defend itself. His fate is sealed from birth, like the tens of thousands of other bulls bred to be maimed, tortured, and in some countries, killed in bull rings in the name of entertainment every year.

Although I was born and brought up in the UK, I would often spend my summer holidays as a child staying with relatives in Portugal. I can still remember at a young age bullfighting being shown live on TV on the leading channel, the vans with megaphones driving around dusty residential streets promoting these spectacles, the brightly coloured posters on street lamp-posts gaily advertising the forthcoming 'touradas' and 'corridas'.

As a young child, these images were both perplexing and horrifying. I simply couldn't understand how some people could take pleasure in watching a terrified animal being goaded and deliberately hurt. If truth be told, if I hadn't been exposed to this, I may not have gone on to be CEO of the League Against Cruel Sports.

The experience was a veritable turning point for me. Fortunately, my family members agreed with me that torturing and killing animals for entertainment was distasteful and - even if, as usually happens in Portugal, the bull isn't killed in the ring - was an indication of decadence rather than progress.

A 'tradition' steeped in cruelty

What the promotional materials never showed though was that in the days leading up to a fight, bulls are often starved and drugged to weaken and disorientate them. Their vision impaired through having petroleum jelly smeared in their eyes, and their sensitive horns shaved - an extremely painful procedure likened to someone having extreme dental treatment with no anaesthetic.

Then there is the 'fight' itself. In a typical bullfight, the animal is repeatedly attacked by men on foot and horseback with lances and barbed harpoons called banderillas. The matador forces the confused and exhausted bull to make a few charges before eventually attempting to kill it with a sword. If not killed, the animal is stabbed repeatedly until paralysed. When the bull finally collapses its spinal cord is cut, but the animal may still be conscious as its ears and tail are cut off and kept as trophies.

Bulls however are not the only animal victims in this cruel 'sport'. Blind-folded and their ears stuffed full of cotton wool prior entering the ring, horses also suffer severe injuries, if not death from being gored by the confused charging bulls.

And the reason behind this senseless cruelty? - to entertain the jeering crowds who have paid to watch.

Bullfighting is dying out but we all have a responsibility

I'm pleased to say however that bullfighting has been losing public appeal year on year. Banned in Catalona in 2010, now more than 100 Spanish cities and towns have banned bullfighting, and more are poised to follow suit. Fewer and fewer seats are occupied in bullrings echoing the opinion of the majority of Spanish people, who do not support bullfighting.

Despite this encouraging decline, tourists are still paying to participate in activities like the annual San Fermin bull running fiesta in Pamplona, Spain - which comes to an end this week.

Often they are totally unaware and naive to the cruelty they are endorsing, both during the daily bull runs but also in the subsequent bullfights taking place each afternoon. Tourism is helping to keep this cruel and barbaric practice alive.

Sadly, this year for the most part the media has again focused on the injuries of runners and often neglect to mention the injuries sustained by the bulls being hit and taunted as they are chased by the crowds down the slippery, glass littered cobbled streets to their end destination: the bullfighting ring.

As tourists we have a duty to make the right ethical decisions when going abroad, as do all travel companies have a responsibility for the welfare of animals in tourism. Deemed 'unacceptable practices' by the UK's biggest travel association ABTA, under its Animal Welfare Guidelines, operators should not even be selling or promoting trips involving bullfighting and running.

Tradition can no longer be used as an excuse for abusing and torturing animals. Like bear-baiting and fox hunting in the UK, that were once considered a tradition, bullfighting has no place in modern civilised society.

The League Against Cruel Sports campaigns for a complete ban on the barbaric and archaic activity of bullfighting and bull running. For more information on the League's campaign please visit