Spanish court rules against plan to omit bullfights from youth voucher scheme

<span>Photograph: Ander Gillenea/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Ander Gillenea/AFP/Getty Images

The debate over bullfighting’s place in Spanish culture and society has been reignited after the country’s supreme court ruled that the Socialist-led government had been wrong to exclude bullfights from a list of events available to young people through a free culture voucher scheme.

Introduced last year, the bono cultural joven (youth culture voucher) entitles Spaniards turning 18 to a €400 (£355) allowance – half of which can be spent on attending cultural events such as festivals, concerts, plays, exhibitions and films.

The government’s decision to omit bullfighting from the list of live cultural events however angered the Fundación del Toro de Lidia, an organisation dedicated to defending and promoting the activity.

The foundation’s president, Victorino Martín, said bullfighting was one of Spain’s “most distinctive cultural expressions” and described its exclusion from the scheme as “cultural censorship and an attack on freedom”.

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The organisation took the matter to the supreme court, which overturned the government’s decision on Tuesday, ruling that there had been no justification for omitting bullfighting.

The court noted that bullfighting had been declared part of Spain’s “cultural heritage” under a 2013 law, adding that its “cultural, historical and artistic aspects” had been afforded legal recognition.

Martín said the court’s ruling was “great news”, telling the Cope radio station: “What this judgment says is that a leader in this country – whatever their tastes and their ideology – has to obey the law. There’s a law that protects bullfighting and which obliges those in power to promote it. What we saw in this case was a very clear exclusion because of ideological sectarianism.”

Isabel Díaz Ayuso, the rightwing, populist president of the Madrid region, also celebrated the ruling, saying bullfighting was part of Spain’s culture and shouldn’t suffer discrimination because of “ideological bias”.

On Wednesday, sources at Spain’s culture ministry told El País that the court’s ruling would be respected and that bullfighting would be included among the activities available through this year’s voucher scheme.

Opponents of bullfighting saw the ruling as another backwards step.

Sergio Torres, director general of animal rights at Spain’s social rights ministry, said the court’s decision showed the need to overturn the legislation protecting bullfighting.

“The supreme court forces the government to subsidise bullfighting through the culture voucher,” he wrote on Twitter. “Bullfighting was declared Spanish cultural heritage in the 2013 law. It’s time to repeal that law so that bullfighting is never against classed as cultural heritage.”

The journalist and writer Pedro Vallín suggested the move could backfire given bullfighting’s dwindling popularity in Spain.

“With its decision on bullfighting, the supreme court has unnecessarily brought forward the legislation that will ban the bull festivals instead of letting them die out gradually because no one wants to pay for them,” he said on Twitter.

The number of festivals also dropped in the aftermath of Spain’s 2008 financial crisis. In the year before the crash, 3,651 events featuring bulls were held across Spain. By 2019, the number of events had more than halved to 1,425.

Europe’s bullfighting sector is reported to have sustained losses of more than €150m during the Covid pandemic as money-spinning events such as the annual running of the bulls in Pamplona were cancelled.

The Canary Islands banned bullfighting in 1991. Although Catalonia followed suit in 2010, the ban was overturned by Spain’s constitutional court six years later.