An annual Spanish festival is a cruel test of intelligence, writes Stephanie Holmes

The world's most stupid festival is currently under way. No, not the Darwin Awards, although attendees really should gain honours just for taking part.

San Fermin begins today and continues until July 14. In that time, hundreds of people will be injured, and a small Spanish town will beome a hotbed of all-night drinking, women will be sexually harrassed and animals will be cruelly killed.

Sound like fun to you?

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Hopefully not, but this is the reality of Pamplona's Running of the Bulls, an annual week-long event which attracts more than a million visitors every year. Kiwis and Australians make up around 11 per cent of that number, one of the largest groups of participants, second only to North Americans who make up around 24 per cent.

Spain's ancient San Fermin festival, and the Running of the Bulls, has become a popular attraction for foreign travellers. Photo / Getty Images
Spain's ancient San Fermin festival, and the Running of the Bulls, has become a popular attraction for foreign travellers. Photo / Getty Images

San Fermin has been celebrated since 1196, a festival originally honouring the first bishop of Pamplona, who according to legend, was killed by being dragged through the streets by bulls. Religious processions, folk dancing, concerts and 24-hour drinking are staples of the festival, as well as the daily Running of the Bulls.

Each morning of San Fermin, six bulls are let loose in a closed-off corridor of narrow, cobbled streets, with crowds first trying to outrun them, then chasing them into a bullring where they will eventually be killed by matadors. The festival hits headlines the world over every year, especially when participants are gored, trampled, or worse (15 people have died since record-keeping began in 1910, the last death was in 2009).

Some might suggest that if you're stupid enough to stand in the path of a group of frightened, stressed, angry bulls, you deserve everything you get. It's the animal cruelty that should really be making headlines.

"More New Zealanders and Australians than Pamplona locals take part in the Running of the Bulls — all seemingly unaware that every single one of the terrified animals they chase through the cobbled streets will be dead a few hours later after being repeatedly stabbed in the city's bullring," says PETA Australia spokesperson Emma Hurst.

"More than 80 per cent of Spanish people want to see an end to the archaic, murderous spectacle that is bullfighting, but the industry is kept on its last legs in part because of New Zealand and Australian tourist money."

Australasians love to win. It's ever-present in our support of national sporting teams, in our celebration of our fellow citizens' achievements overseas, and our glee at being countries everyone around the globe wants to visit.

But this is one "sport" we should be ashamed to be excelling in.

The New Zealand Embassy advises women to take extra care at Pamplona's San Fermin festival. Photo / Getty Images
The New Zealand Embassy advises women to take extra care at Pamplona's San Fermin festival. Photo / Getty Images

And it's not just the animal cruelty that should make our blood boil. In the age of #metoo, this festival comes with explicit warnings for women's safety.

in April this year, five Spanish men - dubbed the "Wolf Pack" - were jailed for sexually abusing an 18-year-old woman during the 2016 festival.

In a 2016 article on Broadly, Pamplona women spoke of the sexual harassment they face every year during San Fermin. "One of the first things we are taught when we start to participate in the festivities is that we must never come back home on our own, that we have to avoid walking through dark streets, and avoid also groups of men," Irene Villafranca told Broadly. The site also reported Pamplona City Council had launched a campaign in 2016 to help protect women attending the festival.

The New Zealand Embassy says: "Sexual offences have commonly been reported during San Fermin," and advises Kiwis to report any incidents to the local Pamplona police straight away.

So, cruelty to animals and abuse of women. Is this the kind of festival Kiwis should be adding to their travel calendars?

Absolutely not, says PETA's Hurst. "We should be standing in solidarity with the majority of Spaniards in demanding an end to this barbarity, not helping to sustain it."

How about this year we run free, and take a stand against this bullshit?