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Rodeo competitor Jake Gardner attempts to ride the bull Rippin Romeo in Calgary on July 3, 2018.Todd Korol/The Globe and Mail

Rodeo competitors must be at least partially vaccinated against COVID-19 in order to participate in the Calgary Stampede this year, making the world-famous contest the first major sporting event in Canada to mandate immunization.

The requirement applies to both Canadian and American rodeo contestants, who won’t be permitted to mingle with the public during the 10-day festival in July. The Stampede included this provision in the safety plan it submitted when it successfully petitioned the federal government to waive isolation and quarantine requirements for rodeo participants, staff, judges and broadcasters arriving from outside Canada.

The federal government does not have the authority to impose public-health restrictions on the Stampede because the festival falls under the purview of the provincial government. But, had the Stampede not created a safety plan, Ottawa could have denied the quarantine and isolation waiver.

Calgary Stampede ready to ride under Alberta’s COVID-19 restrictions

Without the waiver, rodeo participants coming from outside the country could have been barred from entering Canada or made to isolate themselves for two weeks immediately upon arriving, which would have discouraged international participation. Most of the Stampede’s rodeo competitors are from the United States. About 160 people fall under the exemption.

Alberta expects to lift the vast majority of its public-health restrictions in time for the Stampede, Calgary’s marquee celebration. It will likely be the largest Canadian public event since the pandemic forced public-health restrictions more than a year ago, and organizers have grappled with how to address the issue of vaccines and COVID-19 testing. They are still debating, for example, whether festival-goers wanting access to the Stampede’s party tent, known as Nashville North, will need to show proof of inoculation or take a rapid test. The event’s safety plan, which Alberta Health approved, includes provisions for on-site vaccinations, but details remain scarce.

Physicians from the Edmonton Zone Medical Staff Association wrote a letter earlier this month warning against proceeding with the Stampede while the pandemic is ongoing, and other Alberta medical professionals have voiced similar concerns.

Mandatory vaccination policies are controversial, with opponents arguing that they infringe on personal health decisions. Alberta Premier Jason Kenney has publicly opposed the idea of vaccine passports, and has said his government would not create them or do anything to help implement them.

Under the terms of the safety plan, rodeo contestants must provide the Stampede with records akin to a vaccine passport in order to compete.

“Participants are required to be vaccinated, in consultation with their personal physician, before June 21, 2021,” the Stampede said in its application to the federal government for the isolation and quarantine exemption. “Proof of vaccination must be sent to the CS Rodeo prior to travelling and must be brought with the participant to have on-hand while in Canada.”

Ottawa provided the passage from the application to The Globe and Mail. Kristina Barnes, a spokesperson for the Stampede, confirmed the mandatory medical standard.

“All rodeo contestants are required to have at least one vaccination, as per our agreement for modified quarantine with the federal government,” she said in a statement. Ms. Barnes noted the organization would prefer if entrants were fully vaccinated. Competitors coming from outside the country will be tested twice for COVID-19 before entering Canada, as well as throughout the fair, she said. Anyone in close contact with rodeo participants will undergo rapid testing during the Stampede.

The quarantine exemption dictates that eligible travellers must enter Canada via the Calgary airport or the land crossing at Coutts, Alta., north of Montana, according to Alexander Cohen, a spokesperson for the federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship. They must take a rapid COVID-19 test upon arrival and isolate at designated locations in and around Calgary while waiting for the results, Mr. Cohen said.

Visitors to the Stampede grounds will not be required to show proof of vaccination in order to attend.

This year, the Stampede organization, which is under extreme financial pressure after cancelling the 2020 exhibition and having to shutter its convention business because of the pandemic, cut the total available rodeo prize money to $1.5-million, or $250,000 per discipline, down from $2-million in 2019. Jared Parsonage, a bull rider from Maple Creek, Sask., is among those who received an invitation to compete.

“I couldn’t believe my eyes,” he said. “It’s sure good to ride bulls for that kind of money again.”

Mr. Parsonage, who placed second at the Stampede in 2019, declined to comment on the vaccination requirement because the topic sparks strong emotional reactions from people on both sides of the debate. He plans to join the rodeo circuit south of the border before returning to Canada for the Stampede.

Marco Mendicino, the federal Minister of Immigration, Refugees and Citizenship, said he approved the quarantine exemption based on the measures in the Stampede’s safety strategy.

“The plan contains significant measures for staff, volunteers and vendors. This includes a rapid testing program, sanitizer, masks, gloves and other protective equipment from the provincial inventory, as well as over 40 other measures undertaken by Stampede and approved by Alberta,” Mr. Mendicino said in a statement. “The plan also builds on Alberta’s successful vaccination campaign with on-site immunization clinics.”

The Stampede said it is working out the details of the clinics with Alberta Health.

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