MADRID — Spain's steep recession has led dozens of cash-strapped local councils to scrap their annual bullfighting fiestas to save public money, official figures and bullfighting entrepreneurs said Tuesday.
The Madrid regional government said it had granted authorizations for 401 bullfighting festivals as of the beginning of August, a 20 percent drop over the same time last year due mainly to the economic slowdown.
Nearly 30 percent fewer bullfights have been staged across Spain this year, with the drop coming mostly in small towns where lesser known matadors perform, said former French bullfighter Simon Casas, one of Europe's biggest bullfighting impresarios.
"At the big festivals in Seville, Madrid and Bilbao, where the great matadors perform, you almost don't notice the crisis, but these are exceptional events," said Casas, who runs arenas in Nimes in France and Malaga in Spain.
"This has so far affected the more modest matadors, but it will soon enough affect the big ones."
The number of towns which included bullfights as part of their annual festivities shot up during Spain's 15-year economic boom, which came to an end late last year as the global credit crunch hastened a correction already underway in its property sector.
But with the country now mired in its worst recession in decades, many of these towns have seen their revenues from taxes and building licences fall sharply and can no longer afford to cover the tab of a bullfight.
The cost of a bullfight can vary between 12,000 euros (17,000 dollars) for a modest affair all the way up to 180,000 euros for an event staged at Madrid's Las Ventas arena, the president of the Association of Fighting Bull Breeders, Eduardo Martin-Penato, told daily newspaper El Pais.
Part of the problem is that many bullfighters continue to demand the same fees which they collected when they were filling arenas, said bullfighting entrepreneur Luis Alvarez, who represents top Bolivian matador Luis Bolivar.
"If you are not drawing a crowd to the arena, you can't demand the same money which you did ask for when you filled the arena," said Alvarez, adding about 400 bullfighting festivals have been cancelled so far this year in Spain.
The cancellations of bullfights, which are often the highlight of a summer fiesta, have in some cases been met with anger by the public.
Dozens of people threw eggs, tomatoes and beer at the town hall of Pinto on Sunday as its mayor Juan Jose Martin stood on the balcony to officially open the town's annual festival which this year does not feature bulls.
The town of around 40,000 people located southeast of the Spanish capital justified the move on the need to chop 300,000 euros from its budget for the week-long fiesta.
"You don't know how much it hurts me that this has taken place in our town. It's a shame that there are such uncivilised people," Martin told reporters after being jeered by the public.
Instead of cancelling a bullfighting festival outright, some towns like Manxanares el Real near Madrid have opted to stage shorter festivals involving fewer fights and younger, less expensive bulls.
The decision to hold a more modest festival followed a referendum held in March on whether to scrap the fiesta outright for budgetary reasons that was deemed inconclusive because only about one in five eligible voters took part.
A slim majority, 52 percent, of those that did cast ballots voted to scrap the bullfighting, 35 percent voted to keep it as part of the fiesta and the rest chose a compromise which would see a scaled back festival.
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