Spanish bullring to let children in free as 'best introduction' to bullfighting

MADRID (Reuters) - A firm managing bullfights at Seville's renowned bullring is to hand out free tickets to children under eight, adding further fuel to a national debate about the traditional, and gory, Spanish pastime.

The company, Pages, said adult spectators with a ticket for the "novilladas" - practice bullfights involving younger bulls - at Seville's Maestranza may be accompanied by a child free of charge, which it said was "the best way to introduce the little ones" to the world of bullfighting.

Jose Enrique Zaldivar, who heads the Spanish Association of Veterinarians for the Abolition of Bullfighting, said attracting children was the only way for bullfighting to regain a declining audience.

"We think it's wrong that young children are allowed to attend these shows because watching animals suffer can cause psychological damage," he added.

Bullfighting, in which the animal usually ends up killed by a sword thrust by a matador ("killer") in shining garb, is for supporters a tradition to be preserved, while critics call it a cruel ritual with no place in modern society.

This week's announcement by Pages came just days after the Culture Ministry on Friday abolished its national bullfighting award over concern for animal welfare, prompting a rebuke from fans and the conservative opposition who see bullfighting as an art form and a staple of national identity.

The Culture Ministry declined to comment on Pages' campaign.

Animal rights party PACMA said on Tuesday it welcomed the award's elimination but also called for an end to public subsidies to bullfighting foundations and related breeders, which it said amounted to nearly 6 million euros ($6.46 million) between 2020 and 2024.

(Reporting by Matteo Allievi; Editing by David Latona and Nick Macfie)