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Is Mexico’s National Game a Beloved Sport or Animal Cruelty?

Categories: Latin America, Mexico, Citizen Media, Sport
Charrería in Mexico, October 27, 2007, photo by Ruben Balderas, CC 2.0. [1]

Charrería in Mexico, October 27, 2007, photo by Ruben Balderas, CC 2.0.

Though many think football (soccer) is the most popular sport in Mexico, the charrería [2] is considered to be Mexico's only national sport (translator's note: the name charrería comes from the word charro, the Mexican cowboy). It's an activity that involves the charro (the rider) and various animals, such as a horse, bull, calf, or mare. Unlike many other sports, in charrería, women have also a role. They're known as escaramuzas (literally: skirmishes). According to Wikipedia [3], urban populations ignore the basics of charrería, but its advocates consider it a very old activity, and a fundamentally Mexican one.

The charrería can be performed as a mere show or as a competition. If it's the latter, some rules [4] must be observed. The activity is carried out through a series of suertes charras (horse shows) or acrobatics, that combine the charro expertise with the training the animal has. Among those acrobatics we can fin the “bull ridings” and the paso de la muerte (the deadly step). The latter consists of a rider riding a horse at full speed that jumps directly to another horse (named “raw” horse) that is also in motion while being spurred on by other charros.

The civil association Mexican Federation of Charrería [5], located at the Historic Downtown in Mexican capital city [6], is one of the authorities of this activity. Besides fostering the paracharrería (which is the same activity but carried out by individuals with special needs), the Federation also aims to make this an inclusive activity and to prevent discrimination. According to the group itself, their mission is:

Participar en la prevención y eliminación de la discriminación de las personas con discapacidad, así como en su integración a la sociedad, favoreciendo su participación en el deporte en general y de éstos la CHARRERIA EN PARTICULAR por ser el único deporte 100% Nacional y dar la oportunidad a los Charros y Charras, que por algún accidente dentro de este deporte hayan quedado con alguna discapacidad, de continuar participando activamente en éste, nuestro Deporte Nacional.

Take part in prevention and removal of discrimination of handicapped individuals, as well as making them part of society, contributing to their participation in sports activities in general and particularly in charrería, as this is the only 100 percent national sport and give an opportunity for male and female charros that due to some accident for practicing charrería are affected by any disability, to continue be active in our national sport.

Despite being a popular tradition, charrería isn't supported by everybody in the country, as some people claim it's an activity that promotes abuse or mistreatment to the animals involved. On the Derecho Animal [7] (Animal Rights) online portal, we can find an explanation about this practice, that extends all the way to the United States.

La Charrería […] se ha convertido en una fiesta cada vez más popular en los Estados Unidos.

Langan, el presidente de una de las asociaciones defensoras, comenta tienen mucha preocupación por estos eventos, “El número de animales que esta siendo expuesto a lesiones es cada vez mayor” advirtió.

The Humane Society ha solicitado a los gobiernos estatales y locales que prohíban este tipo de práctica, que tienen como consecuencia el maltrato de muchos animales, y han logrado ser escuchados en lugares como Nebraska,Colorado y California.

En la ciudad de Omaha y Nebraska, se analiza prohibir este espectáculo, tras escuchar los argumentos a favor y en contra de esta terrible tradición.

Charrería […] has become a increasingly popular celebration in the United States.

Langan, chairman of one of the [animal] advocate associations, remarks they are very concerned for these events, “The number of animals that are being exposed to injuries is increasing”, he warned.

The Humane Society has requested local and state governments to ban this practice, that result in mistreatment to many animals, and they've managed to be heard in places such as Nebraska, Colorado and California.

In the city of Omaha and Nebraska, they are considering to ban this kind of show, after listening the pros and cons of this terrible tradition.

The website concludes with this phrase:

Al ser una tradición que es realizada [desde] hace mucho tiempo es de esperarse que los mexicanos defiendan la misma y aseguren que las charreadas son eventos culturales importantes y no peligrosos.

As this is a long-existing tradition, it's expected that Mexicans may defend it and assert that charreadas are important cultural events not dangerous at all.

On Twitter, Param0_ asks:

Is charrería a national sport or an excuse for animal abuse?

Meanwhile, Eugenio Peña points out other practices that should be banned too, if Mexico indeed must end charrería:

If you want to ban animal abuse, then you have to be against circus without animals as well as charrería, bullfighting, aqcuariums, cages, etc.

A member of the association Unidos Para Proteger a los Animales (United to Protect Animals) told the news site Angel Guardián [16]:

El conocido escritor mexicano Carlos Fuentes sostenía que: “La cultura o es universal o no es cultura; es folclore”.

La charrería es mal llamada “El deporte nacional”, y digo mal llamada porque el Comité Olímpico define claramente que para poder considerar deporte cualquier práctica, los contendientes deben estar en igualdad de condiciones y el caballo no tiene ni remotamente las mismas oportunidades de su oponente el hombre.

Renowned Mexicano author Carlos Fuentes claimed that: “Culture is universal or it's not culture; it's folklore.”

Charrería is inappropriately known as “the national sport”, and I say inappropriately known as the Olympic Committee clearly defines that for any practice to be considered a sport, contenders should be under the same conditions, and here the horse is not even close to have the same chances as this contender, a human being.

Unidos Para Proteger a los Animales argues:

Al igual que la tauromaquia y las peleas de gallos, la charrería es otra forma de maltrato animal.

Si, la charrería es una tradición y una costumbre. Pero no es universal, por lo tanto no es patrimonio cultural ni deporte, tan sólo es una expresión del folclore mexicano.

As bullfight and cockfight, charrería is another way on animal abuse.

Yes, charrería is a tradition and a custom. But it's not universal, so it's neither cultural heritage nor sports, it's just an expression of Mexican folklore.

[17]

Mexican charros. Photo taken by the author and available on his blog.

These are the two sides of the same coin: an old Mexican regional practice that uses animals and has become a show and maybe a sport, or an activity that should be considered synonymous with bullfighting. However, we should note that in charrería, the goal is not to kill the animal but to perform the “perfect thrust”.

Charrería will probably come up for discussion by lawmakers soon, as the public shows growing interest [18] protecting animals from public performances. When that debate comes to the public, we can expect to hear voices on both sides of the isle.