Hamilton asks USOC to ax Games rodeo

Oct. 31, 2001

The Deseret News (Salt Lake City, UT)

By Brady Snyder

Olympic figure skating gold medalist Scott Hamilton has issued a letter to the U.S. Olympic Committee asking that the organization step in and shut down the Olympic Command Performance Rodeo.

Scheduled for the Davis County Fairpark Feb. 9-11, the rodeo is officially a part of the Salt Lake Organizing Committee's Cultural Olympiad and, despite brisk ticket sales, has incurred criticism from animal rights advocates.

"People are really appalled that the rodeo is being held as a part of the Olympic cultural event," Kristie Phelps, campaign coordinator for People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals said. "Rodeos are celebrating the pathetic side of the Wild West that should have been relegated to the pages of history."

Hamilton's letter, dated Oct. 30 and faxed to USOC President Sandra Baldwin, states that cruel rodeos shouldn't be associated with Olympic ideals.

The letter is signed by Hamilton but was written by PETA, Michael Sterling, Hamilton's spokesman said.

"Rodeos are violent displays of human domination over animals, very thinly and not very convincingly disguised as entertainment," the letter states. "While running at full speed, the animals are lassoed as quickly as they are slammed to the ground, tendons are torn and necks snapped. This is not true sport."

"The Olympics is about competition amongst athletes," the letter continues. "Although cowboys voluntarily participate in rodeo events, the animals have no such choice. Please do not let the Olympic image be tarnished by the distressing spectacle of a rodeo."

It's not the first time Hamilton has petitioned Olympic organizers on PETA's behalf.

In 1996, Hamilton persuaded Atlanta's organizers not to release doves at the opening ceremony since, in past Games, many birds perished after flying into the Olympic flame, Sterling said.

With Hamilton on board, Phelps hopes organizers will have a renewed desire to cancel the rodeo. Cancellation would further benefit the Games, Phelps said, since it would stop hundreds of activists from protesting the rodeo during the Olympics.

Although Hamilton's letter was sent to the USOC, any cancellation decision is up to Games organizers in Salt Lake City and the USOC won't press SLOC to cancel the event, USOC spokesman Mike Moran said. "Scott is a great friend of ours, but unfortunately he's talking to the wrong people," Moran said.

Raymond T. Grant, artistic director for the Olympic Arts Festival, said cancellation isn't an option. It was Grant's decision to include the rodeo in the Cultural Olympiad, and while he realizes the sport is controversial, it has cultural benefits.

"It is very hard to deny the contribution rodeo has made to the Western, cowboy culture," he said.

Organizers, Grant said, have sold 70 percent of tickets to the three nights of rodeo in the 2,600-seat arena.

Grant also noted that the rodeo will follow guidelines set forth by the American Veterinary Medical Association to ensure that animals are treated as humanely as possible during the events.

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