- The Washington Times - Tuesday, March 17, 2009

MADRID (AP) - A rare and vicious spat has engulfed Spain’s normally collegial world of bullfighting: some matadors are livid over a top award being presented to a toreador critics say is more about glitz and family pedigree than skill in the ring.

Two previous winners of the Fine Arts honor handed out late last month by the Culture Ministry have taken the unprecedented step of giving their medals back, saying the prize given to Francisco Rivera Ordonez cheapens the deadly duel between man and beast that Spain calls its national pastime.

Rivera Ordonez, 35, is a regular on the bullfighting circuit and has killed more than 1,000 bulls in Spain’s topflight arenas over the course of his 14-year career.

But he is just as much of a fixture on the covers of gossip magazines, having once been wed to a daughter of Spain’s most titled aristocrat and now dating a former Miss Spain.

He and his younger brother Cayetano, also a bullfighter, are dark-haired hunks that also model Armani suits, among other commercial endorsements. They were even featured last year in a segment on the U.S. news program “60 Minutes.”

The brothers come from Spain’s most storied bullfighting dynasty. Their father was a hugely popular toreador known as Paquirri, who died in the ring in 1984, and their grandfather Antonio Ordonez was a living legend in the 1950s.

In announcing the award for Francisco Rivera Ordonez, the Culture Ministry said that since 2000 he had worked to refine his style, which it said is “now more aesthetic, relaxed and deeper.”

But many in the bullfighting world say that while they have nothing against the man personally, the prize stemmed from his image, not his abilities.

“This prize was given out because of Francisco Rivera Ordonez’s popularity,” said Israel Vicente, head of Tauropress, a public relations agency that specializes in bullfighting and represents Jose Tomas, one of the disgruntled bullfighters who gave their award back in protest. The other is Paco Camino.

“He is a very popular man and a nice person, whatever you want,” Vicente said. But “there are 15 retired or active bullfighters out there who deserve the prize before he does.”

Others have been even more scathing. Bullfighter Jose Antonio Morante de la Puebla said, “To be honest, it is disgraceful that the Fine Arts medal has gone to Francisco Rivera Ordonez.”

Morante de la Puebla said he was upset not with the bullfighter, but with those who gave him the medal, calling their decision “a clear and perfect example of what the prize committee knows about bullfighting and art.”

But Juan Belmonte, a bullfighting critic for TV station Canal Sur in Seville, said Rivera Ordonez is perfectly deserving of the award, although maybe the ministry gave it to him too early in his career.

“Perhaps it would have been more proper to give it to him when he had killed 4,000 bulls, rather than 1,000,” he said from Seville.

Belmonte also said he found it appalling for Jose Tomas and Paco Camino to turn in their awards in protest, calling it disrespectful to fellow bullfighters and the profession in general.

“I have never heard of, for example, Clint Eastwood returning an Oscar because one was given to (Pedro) Almodovar,” Belmonte said, referring to the Spanish film director who has won Hollywood’s top honor twice.

The Fine Arts award that Rivera Ordonez won is one of several handed out every year in fields that also include literature, cinema and cuisine. They date back to 1969 but it was not until 1996 that one went to a bullfighter _ Rivera Ordonez’s grandfather.

In the bullfighting world, people may disagree on whether young Francisco should have gotten it, Belmonte said, but the important thing is that a profession that is actually regulated by the Interior Ministry, which runs the Spanish police and security forces, is at last getting a nod as something intrinsically cultural.

“I imagine they all agree that it is good for bullfighters to be recognized as part of Spanish culture,” Belmonte said.

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC. Click here for reprint permission.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide