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Bull riders quickly back in the saddle

By MURRAY GREIG | China Daily | Updated: 2020-05-22 09:08
Bull riding looks set to become North America's first pro sport to welcome back fans to the stands after plans were announced to sell 4,000 tickets for a July rodeo in South Dakota. AP

The quintessential North American sport isn't going to let the coronavirus pandemic stand in the way of business as usual.

The US-based Professional Bull Riders announced this week it will host rounds of the PBR Monster Energy Team Challenge Championship during a three-day event in July in South Dakota, almost certainly making it North America's first pro sports enterprise to welcome fans back to the stands during the pandemic.

The Sanford Denny Premier Center in Sioux Falls will host the competition. The venue can hold up to 12,000 spectators, but organizers will only sell around 4,000 tickets.

Free face coverings for all fans, seats spaced four to six feet apart and strict control of the flow of people entering and exiting the arena are other precautions that will be in effect.

"South Dakota is working hard to get things back to normal, and that includes the return of sports at the proper time," governor Kristi Noem said in a statement.

"South Dakotans have been smart and innovative in responding to this crisis, and the plan for the Denny Sanford Premier Center shows that we can reopen arenas in safe and innovative ways.

"We commend the PBR for their careful planning and will continue to work with them to ensure the safety of their fans."

The first rounds of the team competition-closed to the public-will take place in Las Vegas starting on June 5. In all, the PBR event will produce about 41 hours of programming on the CBS Sports Network, with the world's top 48 bull riders-primarily from the US, Canada, Australia and New Zealand-competing in the 12-team challenge.

The PBR announcement comes two weeks after the world's richest and longest-running pro rodeo in Calgary, Canada, was canceled because of the pandemic.

"We knew that any decision was going to be a larger decision about the community, about everybody that would be affected economically through this process and it was not a decision that we came by lightly," said Dana Peers, president and board chairman of the Calgary Stampede.

"But it is a decision that is the best interest of public health and safety."

The cancellation is the first in the 97-year history of what's been dubbed "The Greatest Show on Earth".

The 10-day Stampede and related events draw more than a million people each July and generates nearly $500 million in revenue for Calgary. It avoided cancellation during the Great Depression and the Second World War, but the COVID-19 pandemic proved too risky.

Codey McCurrach, a driver with the World Professional Chuckwagon Association, said the decision makes perfect sense.

"It's going to affect us very dramatically in an economic sense," he said.

"Without that revenue coming in to race wagons and support the business that you love, it's not like we're getting rich at it. The guys drive due to their love of the sport."

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