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Bull riding—often described as one of the world’s most dangerous sports—involves a rider, or cowboy, attempting to stay on a bucking bull for eight seconds by hanging onto a rope around the animal’s chest.

The annual Sun Valley Professional Bull Riders Classic rodeo competition was canceled Monday after the Hailey City Council denied an arena-use application from event organizers, citing COVID-19 concerns.

As in years past, the event—proposed for Sept. 26—would have showcased top bull-riding athletes from across the world at the Hailey Rodeo Arena.

Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association spokeswoman Julie Jutten told the Hailey council on Monday that PBR industry professionals had put together a solid COVID-19 safety plan that “worked well” at other events. Under that plan, the Hailey Rodeo Arena would be capped at 50 percent, or 1,100 spectators, she said, and social distancing would be encouraged using signage. Restrooms would also be closed and swapped for porta potties.

“What we’ve seen work best is that people come with their set group and social distance in public gathering areas,” she said.

Councilman Sam Linnet said the risk was simply too high with fans and riders coming from COVID-19 hotspots in Idaho and across the country.

“I’d feel very uncomfortable saying yes to an event like this when we’d be bringing in audience members or participants from communities experiencing COVID spread,” he said. “I do appreciate the [applicants’] attempts to address COVID, and that this is something folks look forward to every year, but there’s not broad support across our state for people to wear masks and social-distance.”

Councilwomen Heidi Husbands and Kaz Thea concurred.

“Having PBR around this time would not help us move forward as a community,” Husbands said. “We couldn’t even have our own rodeo this year.”

Thea called it “irresponsible” to hold a large rodeo in an enclosed arena.

“We’ve done a great job flattening the curve here and the risk is too great,” she said.

Councilman Juan Martinez, the lone dissenter, tried to persuade the council that the COVID-19 safety plan submitted by PBR was sufficient.

“These guys have developed a wonderful plan to keep people safe at an event that may or may not have 1,100 people. And we have the ability to put on a safe event for fans to enjoy,” he said. “Let the records show I’m OK being the minority voice here.”

Mayor Martha Burke said the event had the potential to be a COVID-19 “super spreader.”

“We got hit really hard early on and learned how to smash the curve. Blaine County is now in a better situation than other areas,” she said. “This year is just the wrong time for this.”

Linnet said he’d be more open to approving special events like the rodeo if the council got an affirmative response from public health officials and local doctors.

“None of us are public health experts and we’re making the best decisions we can on limited information,” he said.

Email the writer: ejones@mtexpress.com

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