One of the first professional athletic sports to allow spectators to attend as states gradually lift restrictions imposed due to the coronavirus is known for its wild, dangerous action: bull riding.
JULIA CREEK, AUSTRALIA – APRIL 08: Sam O’Connor of Tully Queensland competes during the Julia Creek Dirt ‘n’ Dust PBR Bull Riding event which is part of the Julia Creek Dirt ‘n’ Dust Festival 2017 on April 8, 2017 in Julia Creek, Australia. (Photo by Mark Kolbe/Getty Images)
Professional Bull Riders has announced a new competition that will culminate in South Dakota on July 10-12 with live crowds. As people itch for a return to daily activity, it’s all a part of an effort by professional sports organizations around the world to give bored fans at least a taste of what once was.
Organizers of the bull riding event said they would provide face coverings to fans, space seats 4 to 6 feet apart, and control the flow of people in and out of the arena to accommodate social distancing.
Germany’s soccer Bundesliga returned this weekend with live soccer, albeit without supporters in the stands. The games were played with sanitized balls, celebrated with fist bumps rather than hugs, and cheered by masked substitute players rather than thousands of bellowing fans.
BREMEN, GERMANY – MAY 18: Maximilian Eggestein #35 of Bremen shake hands with the match officals after the Bundesliga match between SV Werder Bremen and Bayer 04 Leverkusen at Wohninvest Weserstadion on May 18, 2020 in Bremen, Germany. The Bundesliga and Second Bundesliga is the first professional league to resume the season after the nationwide lockdown due to the ongoing Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. All matches until the end of the season will be played behind closed doors. (Photo by Stuart Franklin/Getty Images)
American professional sports organizations — keen to hear the roar of fans accompanying a photo finish or a 20-foot putt — are working out how they can ease back into live events without exposing spectators to the virus.
The PGA tour plans to bring back golf tournaments in June, but organizers have said they won’t allow crowds for at least a month. NASCAR fans, barred from the raceway, gathered outside Darlington Raceway in South Carolina on the weekend just to hear the roar of the engines.
As one of the first events slated to allow spectators, the bull-riding competition will be a test — and a step toward a return to normalcy.
Roscoe Jarboe of New Plymouth Idaho gets bucked off a bull during the Tuff Hedeman Bull Riding Tour at the El Paso County Colosseum on February 16, 2019. – About 25 riders competed for about $30,000 in prize money for this Tuff Hedeman Bull Riding Tour stage named after the four time bull riding world champion who grew up in El Paso, Texas. (Photo by PAUL RATJE / AFP) (Photo credit should read PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images)
The sound from fans will be subdued. The bull-riding competition will take place in the 12,000-seat Sanford Denny Premier Center in Sioux Falls, but tickets will be offered for only 35% of seats.
That won’t fit President Donald Trump’s criteria for normal. He said on Sunday that his idea of a return to normalcy would be having thousand of fans without masks “practically standing on top of each other” at golf tournaments.
But sporting event organizers are watching governors and local officials to comply with their slow lifting of restrictions on daily life.
Professional Bull Riders said it worked with South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and local officials to organize the event. Noem has avoided closing businesses or issuing sweeping stay-at-home orders during the pandemic, and she welcomed the announcement, saying on Twitter that it shows the state “working to get back to normal.”
TOPSHOT – Brady Portenier of Caldwell Indiana competes in the El Paso County Colosseum during the Tuff Hedeman Bull Riding Tour on February 16, 2019. – About 25 riders competed for about $30,000 in prize money for this Tuff Hedeman Bull Riding Tour stage named after the four time bull riding world champion who grew up in El Paso, Texas. (Photo by PAUL RATJE / AFP) (Photo credit should read PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images)
Last month, the governor pressured a pair of dirt track raceways to cancel plans to allow hundreds of spectators to watch races.
Ian Fury, a spokesman for the governor, said welcoming the bull-riding event largely came down to timing. The governor expects the spread of infections to be on a downward swing by that time, he said.
The bull riders are “really going above and beyond” in organizing the event to mitigate the possibility of infections, Fury said.
The televised Professional Bull Riders event will pit teams of riders against each other on Fridays and Saturdays for nearly a month in Las Vegas, but without spectators. For the final weekend, they’ll make their way to South Dakota to an event that organizers hope will attract several thousand people.
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