France’s top legal body has rejected a bid by animal rights activists to ban the sport of bullfighting in the country, essentially asserting the legality of the ancient spectacle.
The judges on France's Constitutional Council said that the "traditional" bullfights "do not harm people's protected constitutional rights.”
Animal rights campaigners sought to end bullfighting on animal cruelty concerns.
Bullfighting, usually identified as a Spanish passion, has been popular in the south of France for the past 150 years -- the sport is particularly popular in the cities of Arles, Bayonne and Nimes, which hold extravagant festivals in connection with the fights.
According to Agence France Presse, more than 1,000 bulls are killed each year in French bullfighting rings.
Defenders of bullfighting assert that it is part of the cultural heritage of southern France and must be preserved.
However, as in Spain, a movement against bullfighting has been simmering in France for decades. The Spanish province of Catalonia, which borders France, has already declared the sport illegal, the first time a Spanish regional authority has ever imposed such a ban.
The BBC noted that almost half the French public would support a ban on bullfighting, according to polls.
The European anti-bullfighting lobby called CRAC called the court’s ruling “politically motivated” and “proved that the Constitutional Council is anything but independent.”
“How can this possibly be a logical decision when the majority of people in France support a ban?” CRAC President Jean-Pierre Garrigues told France 24.
“Just because [bullfighting] is a tradition does not mean that it should not and cannot be banned. Dogfighting was a tradition; it is [now] illegal and rightly so. France has laws that criminalize cruelty to animals. How can we possibly allow certain cities to glorify the torture and murder of animals for the pleasure of a few spectators?”
Indeed, bullfighting is already banned in certain parts of France, but the animal rights activists, who may now take their battle to the European Court of Human Rights, are demanding a nationwide prohibition.
However, at least one prominent French lawmaker, Interior Minister Manuel Valls (who was born in Barcelona), recently defended bullfighting, enraging many in France.
“It's something I love; it's part of my family's culture," he told France’s BFM News. "It's a culture that we have to preserve. We need these roots, we should not tear them out.”
Laurent Deloye, a journalist and a supporter of bullfighting, also praised the court’s ruling
“I was never in any doubt though,” he told FRANCE 24. “I have faith in the laws of my country.”
But Deloye conceded that people in the north of France would likely never accept bullfighting.
“I too am a defender of animal rights,” he said. “But bullfighting specifically involves fighting bulls representing their breed’s highest quality. Defending bullfighting is about tradition as well as defending this breed of bulls.”
Brigitte Dubois, president of Nimes bullfighting association, also defended the sport.
"I love animals perhaps more than the protesters," she said. "I can belong to the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals and at the same time like bullfights. It's not incompatible at all."
France 24 reported that advocates for bullfighting also cite the economic benefits the blood sport brings to a France reeling under an economic crisis.
"[A ban on bullfighting] would damage the attractiveness of our festivals and have economic effects on hotels and restaurants,” Genevieve Darrieusecq, the mayor of the city Mont-de-Marson, told AFP.