Protesters tagging along on Olympic Torch route

Animal rights activists step up rodeo objections

Friday, December 28, 2001

The Standard-Examiner (Ogden, UT)

By Bob Ward

SALT LAKE CITY – The Olympic Torch is supposed to ignite the Olympic spirit, but it appears to have lit a fire under animal rights demonstrators as well.

As the flame makes its way through New England this week, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals and other animal rights groups are tagging along to protest Davis County's Olympic rodeo.

The activists maintain rodeo is cruel to animals and has no place in the world's biggest celebration of humanity. They're using the torch relay now in its 23rd day of a 65-day journey around the country as a vehicle to broadcast the message.

"Everywhere they go, PETA puts out a press release and people follow the torch handing out leaflets and literature," said Sean Diener of the Utah Animal Rights Coalition.

UARC has complained for months about the Feb. 9-11 Olympic Command Performance Rodeo at the Davis County Legacy Center in Farmington. The rodeo is part of the Olympic Arts Festival, along with numerous exhibits and performances along the Wasatch Front.

Now UARC is cooperating with a national and international network of like-minded activists in an effort to cancel the rodeo, or at least remove calf-roping from the program.

The reception in Utah has been cold, but Diener said it's been different along the relay route.

"A lot of people are really shocked when they find out there's "an Olympic rodeo," Diener said. "In Utah, it's a little different because rodeo is a little more intertwined in our culture."

Salt Lake Organizing Committee President Mitt Romney and Arts Festival Director Ray Grant recently met with UARC and other groups to discuss the Olympic rodeo. They refused to cancel the event, saying contracts have been signed and tickets sold, but they agreed to ask the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association to eliminate calf-roping, which to activists consider the most brutal part of the sport.

The association, however, declined. At this point the rodeo includes bareback riding, steer wrestling, team roping, saddle bronc riding, calf roping, women's barrel racing and bull riding.

The activists have since taken their show on the road with the torch.

"They show up at our lunch-time celebrations and sometimes at our evening celebrations," said SLOC spokesman Mark Walker, who is traveling with the relay. "They've been very quiet, very respectful of what we're doing. From what I understand, some of them are there to see the torch as well."

Things could get a little more heated, however, when the torch reaches Chicago on Jan. 4. From that point forward, Diener said, the Illinois-based group Showing Animals Respect and Kindness (SHARK) intends to follow the relay in a rolling billboard known as the "tiger truck."

The custom-made Isuzu has 100-inch video screens on each side and will show footage of what SHARK considers rodeo animal abuse.

"When the torch gets to Chicago, they're going to follow the torch all the way to Salt Lake City," Diener said.

Animal rights activists also plan to rent downtown Salt Lake billboard space during the Games to say "Don't Shame the Games: Buck the Olympic Rodeo."

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