Spain’s famous Bull Run festival returns after a 2-year hiatus


Thousands of revelers erupted in celebration on Wednesday when the traditional “chupinazo” firework was lit to kick off the San Fermin running of the bulls festival in the Spanish city of Pamplona, ​​ending a two-year hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic. .

The rain did nothing to dampen the atmosphere as the crowd, almost all dressed in the traditional attire of white pants and shirt with a red sash and neckerchief, packed the small town hall square for the midday event. After the fireworks exploded, the revelers continued to spray each other with red wine.

The highlight of the nine-day festival is the early morning “lock-ups,” or bullfights, which begin on Thursday, when thousands of thrill-seekers rush like mad to avoid six bulls as they run along a route. winding and paved towards the bullring of the city. Spectators watch from balconies and wooden barricades set up to line the field. The rest of each day is for eating, drinking, dancing and cultural entertainment.

The festival was made world famous by Ernest Hemingway’s 1926 novel “The Sun Also Rises.” Before the pandemic made it impossible to celebrate in 2020 and 2021, it had not been suspended since the Spanish Civil War in the 1930s.

The population of Pamplona from about 200,000 balloons to almost a million on peak days during the festival, especially during the weekend, including many foreigners. Many visitors don’t stop partying all night or sleeping for a while outside where they can.

California couple Sheyla and John Dowd, who work in Silicon Valley, were among those excited that the party had returned so they could participate for the first time. Sheyla Dowd said that she would watch as John tested his legs against the bulls and the other frantic sprinters.

“Now that it’s post-COVID, it’s exciting to be around a lot of people and be a part of the celebration,” he said. “I’m going to cheer him on from above saying ‘go, run faster’.”

John Dowd added: “We were looking forward to it. And oh yeah, where is the hospital?”

Former soccer player and coach Juan Carlos Unzue had the honor of launching the small rocket from the balcony of the town hall. Unzue had to retire as a coach in 2018 after being diagnosed with the neurodegenerative disease ALS, or amyotrophic lateral sclerosis.

“This ‘chupinazo’ is dedicated to all those toilets and people who helped us during the pandemic, and to all those who suffer from ALS. Long live San Fermín,” he shouted from a wheelchair to the crowd below.

The mayor of Pamplona, ​​Enrique Maya, told the Spanish state news agency EFE that although there was a lot of excitement this year, he was a little worried.

“We have a feeling that there is such a desire among people to have a good time that it could get out of control,” he said.

City officials urged people not to forget that coronavirus infections are on the rise again and encouraged the wearing of masks. But the massive races and side parties will make this pattern very difficult to follow.

Normally, the festival is relatively incident-free with most injuries occurring during the races or from alcohol-related accidents.

Eight people were gored during the last party of 2019. Sixteen people have died in bull runs since 1910. The last death occurred in 2009.

Animal rights protesters have also become a fixture in Pamplona. On the eve of this year’s festival, dozens of activists dressed as dinosaurs and carried signs reading “Bullfighting is prehistoric” as they walked the confinement route to protest what they see as animal cruelty, urging tourists to do not participate.

The bulls used in the running of the bulls are killed by professional matadors in bullfights every afternoon in the city ring.

Bullfighting is protected by the Spanish Constitution as part of the country’s cultural heritage. The show remains immensely popular, although the movement against it has gained momentum. Animal rights groups cite figures from the Ministry of Culture that say 90% of Spaniards did not attend any festive event involving bullfighting in 2014-2015, the last year the issue was surveyed.

A huge cloud has fallen over the San Fermin festival over a 2016 gang rape case that rocked the country, and city officials are highly sensitive to anything that could be seen as mistreatment of women.

Under the slogan “Pamplona Free of Sexual Assaults”, the organizers have started a campaign this year to give information and advice in an office in the center of the city to victims or witnesses of abuse, as well as to the general public.

The rape case ultimately led to a bill that makes consent a key determinant in sexual assault cases, freeing victims from having to prove that violence or intimidation was used against them.


Giles reported from Madrid. Joseph Wilson in Barcelona contributed to this report.

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