Bullfighting back in Madrid as heated election campaign ends

International

MADRID (AP) — Bullfighting with fans returned to Madrid on Sunday for the first time since the start of the pandemic, with several thousand spectators allowed into the Spanish capital’s Las Ventas ring.

Regional authorities allowed the event, whose earnings are to help the bullfighting industry, which like all activities that rely on live audiences has been hard hit by coronavirus lockdowns and restrictions.

Regional authorities put a limit of 40% occupancy for Madrid’s first bullfight in over a year, meaning up to 6,000 fans could attend. Fans had assigned seats and had to wear face masks at all times. The lineup included top bullfighters Enrique Ponce and Julián “El Juli” López.

Last summer, bullfighting returned in Spain’s southern region of Andalusía with 50% occupancy following the country’s complete lockdown during the worst months of the pandemic.

But the timing of bullfight in Madrid has political implications. Besides falling on a regional holiday, it coincides with the final day of official campaigning for Madrid’s important regional election on Tuesday.

The region’s conservative chief, Isabel Díaz Ayuso, is running for re-election in an early election she called seeking to increase her power in the regional legislature. Díaz Ayuso has made the election a referendum on her pushback against the stricter health restrictions imposed or recommended by Spain’s left-wing central government.

While not intervening to stop the bullfight, the national health authorities have repeatedly urged regions not to risk mass contagion by allowing large events. Soccer matches are still played at empty stadiums.

The Health Ministry on Friday indicated that Madrid has the second-highest infection rate of Spain’s regions at 384 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over 14 days.

Díaz Ayuso defended her decision by appealing to the central theme of her campaign: “liberty.”

“When there are bullfights, there is liberty,” Díaz Ayuso said last month.

Last week she added: “It is very important for those who like bullfighting to see them as they wish. The spectators are going to be in the best hands possible. There won’t be a problem.”

Díaz Ayuso is hoping that her conservative Popular Party will win an outright majority. If she falls short, her chances of staying in power would depend on the far-right Vox party. The campaign has been marred by death threats sent by letter for candidates, including Ayuso, and ministers of Spain’s government that police are investigating.

The left-wing’s chances of reclaiming power in the Madrid region for the first time in over two decades hinge on a massive turnout Tuesday and cooperation by the three leftist parties, including Prime Minister Pedro Sánchez’s Socialists. A heavy defeat for the left-wing in Madrid would hurt Sánchez’s national ruling coalition.

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