LONDON — Bullfighting has a long history in Spain, but there seems to be something especially grim about the Toro de la Vega in Tordesillas.
Unlike the running of the bulls at the San Fermín festival in Pamplona, where participants are chased through the city by bulls before they are eventually killed by a matador, the roles are reversed in Tordesillas: Hundreds of participants, none of them professional bullfighters, brandish spears and others weapons as they pursue the bull, on foot or on horseback. Critics find the spectacle gruesome.
To a growing number of Spaniards — and an array of critics who vented outrage on Twitter — the tradition, said to date from 1534, has gone on long enough.
Last weekend, thousands of people in Madrid broke spears to protest the festival, and the online group Anonymous hacked the website of the local government in Tordesillas, which is about 110 miles northwest of the capital. The newspaper El País, in an editorial on Monday, said the tradition had become “a symbol of repugnant brutality.”
The controversy culminated on Tuesday morning. A tense sit-in in Tordesillas — in which protesters faced off feet from participants in the tournament — could not prevent Rompesuelas, as this year’s bull, weighing 1,400 pounds, was named, from meeting its fate. It died in a dusty field, about 20 minutes after it was released at the start of the chase.
The apparent winner of the tournament, Francisco Alcalá Estebanez, was carried on the shoulders of other participants, the severed tail of the bull attached to his spear.
But in a twist, the judges of the event disqualified the would-be victor.
They found that the killing of Rompesuelas was improper because more than one person — three, in fact — had participated, because the bull was speared from behind and because it died outside of the tournament’s authorized area.
That amounted to a breach of the tournament regulations, according to El País.
Pictures of the dying bull, in agony, have quickly spread on Twitter.
In a phone interview, Silvia Barquero, president of Pacma, a political party that advocates animal rights, called the tournament “an icon of animal abuse in Spain” and an inhumane anachronism.
Local officials seemed unmoved. The mayor of Tordesillas, José Antonio González Poncela, said that while he was no fan of bullfighting, his community was “united against the threats and attempts to intimidate us,” the BBC reported.