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Bullfighters lock horns over controversial award

A RARE 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 announced last month by the Culture Ministry have handed back their medals. Jose Tomas and Paco Camino said the prize given to Francisco Rivera Ordonez cheapened 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 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, also model Armani suits, among other commercial endorsements.

The brothers come from a 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, the Culture Ministry said that since 2000 Rivera Ordonez had worked to refine his style, which was "now more aesthetic, relaxed and deeper."

But many in the bullfighting world say the prize is for his image, not his abilities. "This prize was given because of Francisco Rivera Ordonez's popularity," said Israel Vicente, head of Tauropress, a public relations agency that specializes in bullfighting. But "there are 15 retired or active bullfighters out there who deserve the prize before he does."

Bullfighter Jose Antonio Morante de la Puebla said: "To be honest, it is disgraceful."


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