FARMINGTON — Davis County officials were pleased Friday with Salt Lake Organizing Committee President Mitt Romney's decision to keep the Olympic Command Performance Rodeo as part of the 2002 Cultural Olympiad.
The rodeo is set for Feb. 9-11 at the Davis County Fairpark in Farmington, but there had been talk that Romney might bend to pressure from animal rights groups and disaffiliate SLOC from the rodeo.
That talk irked many Davis County leaders who have labored for years to bring some sort of Olympic event to the county, which holds no Olympic sporting venues.
State Rep. Paul Ray, R-Clinton, went so far as to send a letter to Romney in which he labeled the animal rights groups "terrorists" and asked the SLOC boss to stick to his guns.
"The rodeo is a very important piece of our culture here in Utah and should not be on the table for negotiations," he wrote to Romney. "We cannot allow terrorist groups such as SHARK (Showing Animals Respect and Kindness) and PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) to frighten us with threats of violence."
Romney met with Salt Lake Mayor Rocky Anderson and a conglomerate of animal rights groups Thursday to talk rodeo. Out of that meeting the animal rights groups had hoped Romney would either cancel the rodeo or disconnect the event from SLOC's Cultural Olympiad.
But Romney declined to do either and instead said the rodeo will go on as scheduled with safety measures — including no tail twisting and electric prodding — in place.
That decision disappointed representatives from PETA, SHARK and the Utah Animal Rights Coalition (UARC), who vowed to continue with rodeo protests planned for the Olympic torch relay and during the 2002 Winter Games both in Salt Lake City and in Farmington where the rodeo will be held.
Maybe more enraging to the activists was Ray's assertion that the groups are terrorists.
"He should either prove that statement or resign," said SHARK leader Steve Hindi, who says his group engages in lawful demonstrations. "Especially after 9/11 when we got to see real terrorism, for somebody to make that kind of statement is unfortunate. In this man's case he should resign. . . . People like this guy ought to know better than to call us out."
Davis County officials were similarly disappointed about being left out of the Thursday meeting at Anderson's office.
Davis County Commissioner Dannie McConkie said Anderson promised him last month that Davis leaders would be party to any further rodeo discussions. He said Anderson was motivated to have SLOC cut ties with the rodeo to avoid protesters in Salt Lake City.
Anderson, through a spokesman, denied that, saying he is working simply as a mediator between SLOC and the activists.
Still McConkie was pleased with the meeting's end result and questioned how Romney could have ever considered disassociating SLOC from the rodeo since tickets to the event have already been sold, bear the Olympic rings and advertise the event as being tied to the 2002 Winter Games.
"How do you now say it's not attached to the Olympics? It's too late for that," he said.
Romney eventually agreed, to the dismay of the animal rights groups that argue that all rodeos are inherently cruel to animals and violate Olympic ideals of peace and goodwill.
"The results aren't what we'd hope for," said UARC executive director Sean Diener. "As it stands, we are proceeding as planned with all our protests."
Friday at 2 p.m. a UARC attorney was scheduled to appear in court to ask a federal judge to give them protest access to, among other places, Salt Lake Olympic Square. Salt Lake City officials have banned groups of three or more from protesting inside the square — a secure area that includes parts of several downtown blocks, including the Salt Lake Ice Center, Olympic Medals Plaza and Main Media Center.