Sunday, 2 May 2004

animals and sport

Whilst on holiday in Spain I had the opportunity to see what local papers were saying about the recent ban in Barcelona on bullfighting. The very idea that Spain might be banning what the world had thought of as its national sport seemed almost impossible — that is, until you remember what they paid for David Beckham. Maybe bullfighting isn’t the draw it was, either for tourists or locals.

The press began by noting that cock fighting, bear baiting, bull baiting and dog fighting were, like bullfighting, once far more widespread, but across Europe a growing horror of such cruelty to animals had gradually reached everywhere.

The bull doesn’t naturally fight. It’s a gentle herbivore, and, as a domesticated animal, has been bred over hundreds of generations for its gentleness. All idea of fighting is foreign to it. The cows allow us to milk them, and cattle have been our best friends for thousands of years. It doesn’t ‘fight’ at all until lances have been hurled into its back. There is no contest in taking a sword to such a creature. It’s like taking a machine gun to a boy who throws stones.

In Spain, bullfighting had become identified with extreme right wing, oppressive government. It had come to symbolise the oppression of ordinary people, of minorities, of those who were different. So, it was unsurprising that the Catalans, whose language and whose culture had been suppressed in Franco’s time should see themselves as such an minority, and side with the noble, suffering bull, rather than with the murderous weapons of the bullfighter in his suit of lights.

Oppressive regimes glory in portraying punishment and killing as a sign of their power. This is what was at the heart of the circuses of ancient Rome. Ritualised execution in such a state could be the fate of anyone who was different, as Christian martyrs of the first, third or 20th century have testified.

Sports which involve killing brutalise those who take part, and all those who watch.

Now, the Catalans appear to have had enough. In a secret ballot which probably surprised everyone, they outlawed the old national sport. I expect they will be followed by similar votes from people in the other marginalized areas of Spain, and eventually the whole nation will turn against the blood lust of this barbaric sport.

And when they do, we shall need to ask ourselves whether, in order to demonstrate that ours, too, is a civilised society, and part of a modern Europe with decent values, we should ban the sport of hunting wild creatures with dogs.

Posted by Tom Ambrose on Sunday, 2 May 2004 at 12:55pm BST | TrackBack
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Categorised as: just thinking

I don't see what this has to do with the Church of England. Sure, notions of animal rights might have a slight bearing on Christianity, but there are many Christians who interpret Genesis to read that animals exist solely for our pleasure and cooking. This seems off-topic and inappropriate.

Posted by: Christopher Culver on Monday, 3 May 2004 at 6:01pm BST

I think it has everything to do with not only the CofE but all Christian churches. God created the animals, just as God created human beings. God gave human beings charge of the earth and its resources, which include the animals. I think it is totally arrogant to dismiss cruelty to some of God's creatures as inappropriate to a Christian venue. It's because of human arrogance and greed that many animals, birds, fish, and insects are now extinct and, while bulls are not nearing extinction, the enjoyment people take in horrendous treatment of them in the bullring is a true example of how little humans value anything but themselves.

so I hope the talk about banning bullfighting, cockfighting, dog fights and all other kinds of animal abuse continues until all of it disappears from this earth. And some of that talk needs to go on in our churches.

Posted by: mumcat on Monday, 3 May 2004 at 9:02pm BST

I think the writer should have researched his "domesticated animals" a bit further. I don't think he knows many cattle farmers or is personally acquainted with bulls. They are very dangerous animals. It seems that every year we read in our Minnesota newspapers about a goring or a death caused by one of these "gentle herbivores." Granted, that does not mean that they "deserve" to die as an entertainment spectacle. Violent, dangerous boys that throw stones shouldn't be shot, either. Further, a friend who grew up in Spain asserts that bullfighting is not performed for entertainment but for asserting the dominance - the machismo - of the Spanish male over nature (in the form of a bull).

Posted by: postulate on Friday, 7 May 2004 at 6:39pm BST

Marcia thinks I should research domesticated animals.
From the age of five I milked cows by hand, and then learned to milk them with a machine. The pedigree herd I worked with always had a bull, as did most farmers in our village.
Funny, I've never heard of anyone killed by a bull in England. What does that say about people in Minnesota?
And yes, bullfighting is machismo and asserting dominance - like the way some servicemen have treated Iraqis.

Posted by: Tom Ambrose on Friday, 7 May 2004 at 7:27pm BST

I was annoyed enough by Tom's argument about fox hunting before he decided on the cheap shot concerning human rights abuses in Iraq. Was that really neccessary just because the person concerned enough to comment on your article was an American?

I do not see how you can possibly equate fox hunting with bull fighting. Bull fighting is nothing more than entertainment. Fox hunting is primarily a means of keeping the fox (a pest and nothing more than vermin in the countryside) under control. There is plenty of evidence to suggest it is by far the most effective method, that balances the need for foxes against the problems of too many foxes. I am sure you city types who are so in love with preserving foxes will change your tune when they start over-running your neighbourhoods and emptying your dustbins. If you live rurally, surely you must know what a pest they are.

However, the most important thing about fox hunting is the number of jobs it creates in related industries in rural areas. I will never support a ban because I cannot see how the life of one fox is in any way more important than the number of men, women and children dependent for money, food and shelter on the industries related to hunting.

Posted by: deejee on Monday, 10 May 2004 at 12:05pm BST

I'm interested in Deejee's reference to foxes as vermin. (I have no strong opinion about fox-hunting either way, so this doesn't influence my response.) I guess that we can call all predators vermin. When lions start taking too many cattle in Africa, they are also treated as vermin. And maybe the notion of predators need not be limited to carnivores, but extended generally to any animal that predates on resources allocated to people, e.g. buck eating crops, or seals eating fish. I appreciate that we wouldn't want 'vermin' to over-run our neighbourhoods in the same way that we have over-run theirs, but somehow I don't think we've got the balance right yet (I'm not just talking about foxes here.) I don't know what that balance is, nor how we will achieve it, but I am certain it requires changing our attitude towards 'vermin' by acknowledging our need for their existence rather than extinction.

Posted by: John Webster on Wednesday, 12 May 2004 at 12:14pm BST

Just a few comments: Nearly 50 yrs ago when working in Catalonia as a student there were few who went to bull fights. Most were interested in soccer. Not much changes.
The argument against animal cruelty that it makes humans cruel to other humans was put by Hogarth in the 18th century. And its as true now as then.
As for fox hunting! What was Oscar Wilde's line? The Unspeakable in pursuit of the uneatable. As for their presence in suburbia the greatest nuisance to me has been the cub in Bromley, London, who deliberately kept jumping onto a garden seat and switching on the security light. Twenty three times before he got tired of the game and I got some sleep.

And yes, this is an important argument for Christians. We are all part of God's creation and it is about time that we all got down off our perches and gave a little thought to others. If animals are there only to be used by humans for 'amusement' it may well be wives, children and grandma next.

Posted by: John D Lewis on Sunday, 16 May 2004 at 5:42pm BST

"Postulate" says that a Spanish friend told him the bullfight is not for entertainment but to assert the Spanish male's dominance over nature. Bullfight promoters wouldn't charge $29.00 a head to have you watch a Spanish man chop down a tree (man over nature, right?). They are trading on the blood and gore that is exhibited in the corrida. Furthermore, since the 18th century, when bullfighting went from being a sport of the nobility to a commercial enterprise meant to bilk the common man out of his hard-earned cash, there have been a NUMBER OF WOMEN who have tortured and killed bulls in the ring. Does the existence of these female bullfighters show that women can also assert their machismo (or machisma?)? Not hardly. They have been allowed to perform because they make money for the bullfight mafia. They sell tickets. The bullfight today is all about making money. This is why a matador only gets hurt in the ring out of carelessness; he can't afford to stay away from his lucrative "profession" for too long. As for the bulls, they have been so "fixed" before they enter the ring, with horn shaving being only one of the numerous ABUSES they suffer, that when the gate opens and they come rushing out, they only appear wild because they are frantically searching for a way out. What these bulls go through then for the next twenty minutes or so is the kind of TORTURE that should not be visited upon any living creature!

Posted by: Michael A. Ogorzaly on Friday, 21 May 2004 at 5:47pm BST