Sun, Jul 15, 2012 - Page 14 News List

Budget for Basque festival
feels pinch of austerity

Despite cutting the budget for annual events, residents are glad governments still give money, saying it is important to keep local culture alive

By Daniel Silva  /  AFP, PAMPLONA, Spain

Josetxu Urrutia lifts a stone in a rural Basque sports championship contest during the San Fermin Festival in Pamplona, Spain, last Sunday.

Photo: AFP

Spain’s world famous San Fermin festival may have daily bull runs as its centerpiece, but the annual fiesta also features hay bale tossing and tree trunk sawing contests.

Competitions of Basque rural sports, known as herri kirolak in the Basque language, are held daily at noon in the Plaza de los Fueros near the historic center of Pamplona, the capital of the northern region of Navarra.

The sports, which also include stone lifting, tug-of-war and wood chopping, hark back to the region’s days as an important farming center and they have long been a part of the nine-day festival, which wrapped up yesterday.

During one of the first competitions eight men, divided into four pairs, raced to be the first to make 14 vertical cuts and four horizontal ones to a log, using a two-man saw with a wooden handle at each end.

The men stood at each end of the log and took turns pulling the saw through the wood, blanketing the ground around them with sawdust.

The crowd watching the contest yelled out words of encouragement and cheered the contestants as they swilled beer from plastic cups. Most were dressed in traditional white clothing with red kerchiefs around their necks.

The competition was won for the seventh year in a row by two brothers, Josetxo and Inaki Barberena, aged 33 and 34, who run a carpentry business in their hometown of Iraizoz just outside of Pamplona.

They completed the event in just more than 10 minutes. The trophy was a black Basque beret.

All eight participants in the tronzalaris competition, as the sport is known in Basque, received a wooden plaque.

“It’s a great feeling. It is technically very difficult, you really have to coordinate,” Inaki said moments after receiving his prize, as beads of sweat trickled down his face.

“Each year it gets harder to win; there is another pair who are very strong,” he added.

The brothers prepare for competitions by practicing sawing logs three times a week.

This year’s San Fermin festival features a total of eight official competitions of Basque rural sports alongside several exhibitions of the traditional games which do not carry prizes.

The budget for Basque rural sports at this year’s fiesta was slashed by Pamplona city hall by 20 percent from last year to 20,000 euros (US$24,500), said Joselu Retegui, the head of the Navarra Federation of Herri Kirolak, which organizes the games.

“The cost of what we do has remained the same so we have had to scale back. There are fewer competitions and they are shorter,” the 48-year-old said.

With Spain under pressure to rein in its public deficit, the entire budget for the San Fermin festival this year was slashed by 8 percent from last year to 2.4 million euros, its fourth straight annual decline.

“I am glad city hall still gives money for these sports. It is important to keep our traditions alive,” said Patxi Mindeguia, 47, as he watched a demonstration of hay bale lifting on Wednesday with his 11-year-old son.

The sport, called lasto botatzea in Basque, involves using a pitchfork to throw a bale of hay wrapped in a gray plastic sheet over a bar set to increasingly greater heights.

Participants during Wednesday’s demonstration speared a bale weighing 12kg with a pitchfork, which they then lifted high above their heads before hurling the hay over the bar.

The rural sports competitions used to be held in Pamplona’s bull ring, where the daily morning bull runs of the San Fermin festival wind up, but 20 years ago fiesta organizers moved them to their present location on the square.

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