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A bullfight in Barcelona. Photo: David Ramos/Getty Images

The coronavirus pandemic has affected sports across the globe, and in Spain, it could wipe out the age-old sport of bullfighting altogether.

Why it matters: For years, an increasingly vocal contingent of Spaniards have been pushing for the end of what they see as "torturing animals as a form of spectacle." Now, the economics are such that the bullfighting industry could die out regardless of the opposition.

The backdrop: As countless fights and festivals were canceled, many breeders were forced to sell their bulls for slaughter, which only recoups about 10% of the investment required to rear a fighting bull.

  • With that math failing to add up — a month ago, industry losses were already estimated to be ~$800 million — bullfighting supporters have staged protests across the country to demand government subsidies.
  • "We want them to treat us as they would any other cultural industry," said breeder Victorino Martín, who also heads the Fundación del Toro de Lidia, a group charged with defending the industry.

The other side: Over 160,000 people have signed a petition aiming to block any subsidies, hoping the pandemic can serve as a form of natural selection for an industry they've tried to squash for decades.

The big picture: Spain officially began reopening bullfighting rings over the weekend, but it remains to be seen what the long-term fallout of the past three months will be.

  • The industry is still furious over the government's lack of financial support, and the restrictions in place as the country tries to responsibly reopen will make it impossible for them to meaningfully recoup what's already been lost.
  • Meanwhile, those who oppose bullfighting see a unique opportunity to rid Spain of something they view as a "national shame" and a "barbaric cruelty."

The bottom line: The centuries-old tradition of bullfighting may need to find a way to evolve with the times, or else it could meet the same fate as the nearly 10,000 bulls each year that die in the ring.

Go deeper: Far-right party in Spain protests government response to coronavirus

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