The mayoress of Gijón, Ana González, was last Sunday night with her family when she received by WhatsApp the poster of the bullfight, the last one of the fair of Begoña of this year. He immediately asked to check that it was not a set-up. Two of the bulls of the afternoon were called Feminista and Nigeriano and the councilor thought it was a joke in bad taste. Once the nomenclature was confirmed, González waited until Wednesday to announce that the joke was not funny and that she had decided not to extend the concession to the company that manages the municipal bullring. The bulls would not return to Gijón. “The lack of freedom is absolute”, said the bullfighter Fran Rivera, who said he felt “very afraid”.
The City Council of Gijón puts an end to the bullfighting festival
Less frightened, El Juli, another bullfighter, demanded a rectification and accused González of wanting to “bathe bullfighting in political and ideological dyes”. It turns out, the bullfighter explained in a video on Twitter, that bulls are named after their mothers, a tradition not meant to be facetious. The Nigerian and Feminist was an “unhappy coincidence,” reiterates Carlos Zúñiga, the bullring’s manager. “The rancher bought it in 1986 to another man who has since passed away,” he insists, so there is no way to check if there was then onomastic rhyming.
Having received the explanation, the councillor has pointed out successively from Wednesday until today that the names could have been changed, and that in any case the decision not to renew the current concession, approved in 2016 for three years with the possibility of extension for another three (2022 would be the last, as 2020 was not taken into account because of the coronavirus) was already taken previously. “The bulls were already clearly questioned, every day there are more people who do not want them,” he defended. González refers to declarations of the Asturian PSOE in that sense of the last years. The socialists recovered the baton of command in 2019 and govern alone.
The decision has caused in the country a news echo that at times has competed with the withdrawal of Western troops from Afghanistan, despite the relative success of bullfighting in Gijón, where it is very difficult for the square to fill. “Only I remember when José Tomás came, that people camped overnight to get tickets,” says Pedro Lopez, vice president of the bullfighting peña Gijona. The same Wednesday came with other fans to protest the environment of the square (the next day also peeked, individually, local representatives of PP, Citizens and Asturias Forum). “They say we were about 70, I think we would be some more,” he says. The suddenness of the announcement has caught the local bullfighters off guard, “like in a dream”. López is pessimistic because, at the end of the day, the bullring is municipal, and even if there were to be a lawsuit, it would be enough for the City Council to raise the fee to prevent a fair that is barely profitable.
“Economically it is not to throw rockets,” says Zúñiga about the business in Gijón, which only gives him “the satisfaction of keeping alive the flame of bullfighting in Asturias”. This year he paid 25,000 euros canon, compared to the usual 50,000, because the poster was halved by the COVID. That as far as he is concerned, because as for the economic return to the hospitality industry, Zuniga figures it between eight and 10 million euros. A report by the local chamber of commerce regarding the 2017 fair, recovered by La Nueva España, speaks of 6.7 million, pulling high in terms of visitor spending (almost a million euros in “purchases”), and even recognizing that the average attendance barely exceeded 30% of the capacity.
The attendance has been precisely one of the great problems of bullfighting in Asturias. In Oviedo, the last bullfight was in 2007. Peñista López, who arrived in Gijón as a teenager from Palencia, has been a subscriber since 1974 and remembers that in those years the bullring “was a pity, there would have been about 400 subscribers”. “The fans were very sleepy, did not have much roots, and that the square is from 1888, “he recalls. Half a century later, the days of more affluence are “three quarters, or a long half”, he points out, although it is normal to see “full buses and many taxis” the big days, and friends who come “from Bilbao and Santander”.
Be that as it may, the mayoress settled the money question. “There are decisions that are not taken by economic factors,” she said, and recalled that white slavery also gives many benefits.
The growing opposition to bullfights is also important. Just this week, the Confederación Hidrográfica del Cantábrico prevented the organisation of a bullfight in a removable bullring in Cangas de Onís because the river Güeña flows nearby. It did not help the promoters that the initiative had added 55,000 signatures against it. It happens in other squares of the north, like the one of Pontevedra, where the city council authorized a bullfight in the river Güeña.The capacity was 75% and the promoter gave up because it was not profitable for him.
“It’s going to be very difficult to come back,” laments López. “If it is not held for two years in a row, it costs more to recover the fans, it is lost,” he adds. In the midst of the controversy, on Friday, next to the square, the restaurant El Tendido did not notice the downturn, according to the worker who answered the phone hurriedly: “We are up to the top”.