Calgary MLA tries to lasso support for making rodeo Alberta's official sport

Calgary MLA Muhammad Yaseen is proposing the province declare rodeo the official sport of Alberta, calling it an important thread in the rich cultural fabric of the province. 

CBC's Unconventional Panel discusses whether province should adopt this branding

Marcos Gloria of Edmonton wins the bull riding event during finals rodeo action at the Calgary Stampede in 2018. (The Canadian Press)

Calgary MLA Muhammad Yaseen is proposing the province declare rodeo the official sport of Alberta, calling it an important thread in the rich cultural fabric of the province. 

Yaseen has presented a private member's bill to the legislative standing committee.

The UCP MLA for Calgary-North, and parliamentary secretary for immigration, says rodeo is not just about competition, but for many in the province, it's about identity, income and culture. 

"Alberta has the richest rodeo culture in all of Canada," Yaseen told the Calgary Eyeopener. "Ranchers are compassionate stewards of the land and their livestock. So it's a cultural thing."

Yaseen says it's the culture of rodeo that best defines this province.

"I have had the chance to live in rural Alberta many years ago in connection with my oil and gas work, and there I became very familiar with the rural culture, a culture of hospitality and collaboration, a culture of generosity and co-operation, with rodeo being the most favourite sport," he said.

"This is many moons ago, but it still goes on with the same spirit. And I think it's a good time to recognize this as an official sport."

Yaseen cited the economic importance of rodeo events, and not just in rural areas.

"Don't forget, we have the biggest rodeo here in Calgary," he said.

Yasee acknowledged that rodeo on its own is not one sport but a group of sports under the umbrella of rodeo. 

Yaseen is not the first MLA to suggest embracing the rodeo brand for the province. In 2008, Liberal Party leader Kevin Taft introduced a similar motion, but it did not move forward.

Yaseen hopes his bill will have more traction.

Calgary-North MLA Muhammad Yaseen has brought forth a private member's bill to declare rodeo Alberta's official sport. (UCP)

"Well, that motion, to the best of my recollection, the motion by member Taft was a private member's motion … and it received overwhelming support," he said. "But that was not a binding motion, and it's just a private member's motion. I don't think it was a bill as it is being done now."

It's a topic that is sure to bring on debate, as member's of CBC's Unconventional Panel confirmed during Wednesday's Calgary Eyeopener.

  • Listen to the full panel discussion on the Calgary Eyeopener here:
Our Unconventional Panel debates whether Alberta's official sport should be rodeo, an idea proposed this week by a Calgary MLA. 9:55

Calgary writer and columnist Val Fortney has covered rodeo events during her newspaper career, even travelling with the chuckwagon drivers on tour one summer.

"It was an absolutely fascinating look into a culture that exists in this province that we see in Calgary for those 10 days, every Stampede, that is just so distinct," she told the panel.

"When I heard about this, I thought, yeah, a lot of people are not going to like this, and I know the animal rights activists aren't going to like it. The urban people say, you know, we play hockey. You know, what about curling … It's an interesting idea. It's a nod to the past and to part of a very deeply ingrained, very distinct and different culture that you can find only in Alberta — that revolves around a sport."

Darryl Stanier, the founder of FMI Logistics, said while he's not the biggest rodeo fan himself, he can see the merits of the rodeo brand.

"What better way to support the branding of Alberta, steeped in tradition and heritage," he said. "Our pioneer forefathers were involved in the cattle drive, and bringing livestock into this part of the country. They, with the First Nations people, came together in 1902 for the first rodeo in Canada, and the first formal stampede in 1912."

Stanier credited Yaseen with having a vision for Alberta.

"It celebrates our heritage and it's clearly what Alberta is about. It's an awesome branding program. I think it's genius," he said.

Khalil Kabani, a barber and northeast community leader, is not a fan of rodeo — or telling the world that that's what Alberta is all about. Part of it is animal rights issues, and part of it is the idea of leaving the past behind.

A young cowboy finds the perfect vantage point during bull riding rodeo action at the Calgary Stampede in 2019. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

"A lot of people don't love the rodeo, and I'm one of them," he said. "But if, and I think this is a very big if, we have to declare a sport that is the official sport to Alberta, then I think it needs to be a little bit more inclusive, something that's affordable and maybe being able to reach out there to the masses."

Kabani suggests that canoeing or paddle boarding would be a better indication of what Albertans engage in.

"Where Alberta was 100 years ago to where Alberta is right now is two different things," he said, adding he is not opposed to the tradition of the Stampede itself.

"The Stampede is a wonderful thing, and if we do a few tweaks here and there, like the calf roping and maybe the horse breaking, yeah, I think we can make it even better," he said. "I think we can definitely work together with that. But whether rodeo should be the official sport of Alberta? That's the real question."

Given the economic and cultural importance of rodeo across the province, Stanier said it's too significant to dismiss.

"There's all kinds of talk out there about different types of cancel culture right now, and when things are truly controversial for the right reason, I'm in for review and and regeneration and rebirth," he said. 

"But Stampede is just a brand that is who we have been. And it doesn't need to be about animal cruelty. I think the Stampede board and the various animal rights activist groups have a great opportunity to help rewrite some of how aspects of it are managed."

Yaseen's private member's  bill is now in committee, and the members will decide whether it will move forward to second reading.

With files from the Calgary Eyeopener.


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