Sometimes our greatest moments come at a time of our greatest challenge, as we saw during the incredible efforts to overcome floods and host an outstanding Stampede 2013. Sometimes our greatest moments come when we are challenged to make the call and do the right thing, as we are now experiencing in relation to the disqualification of a steer from the UFA Steer Classic in 2013.
The Calgary Stampede is committed to doing the right thing for all of our human and animal competitors. We want to run good clean events and our people are charged with ensuring the safety, health and integrity of all those involved in our competitive and programs. In recent years, the Stampede has enhanced its animal policies, protocols and procedures, including drug-testing of all chuckwagon horses and barrel racing horses. This year we decided in advance of the finals to drug-test the top two steers at the UFA Steer Classic competition.
As some may know, the winning steer becomes the property of the Calgary Stampede in order to provide quality beef for a fundraising event later in the season. So you can see why our rules state that competition animals must be free of drug residues and are subject to blood tests.
When the Grand Champion steer blood samples revealed the presence of two separate drugs – Ibuprofen and Flunixin –we made the decision to disqualify. This was a clear, simple and straightforward decision given our rules. The disqualified steer was returned it to its owners and we promoted the Reserve Champion to the title of Grand Champion. Disqualification was the right thing to do. There is no doubt in my mind and the minds of those involved from the Stampede.
We also did the right thing by the disqualified steer’s owners. We shared the detailed findings of the blood tests with the individuals involved. We agreed to maintain this information in confidence while we continued discussions and while they shared their perspectives and information with the Stampede’s Agricultural Review Panel. This is a serious issue and we respect their reputations as producers, so we maintained confidentiality during this process.
We also respect the reputations and contributions of our volunteers. Dr. Don Miller, Chair of the Steer Committee, has provided outstanding leadership and service throughout this situation, all the while facing accusations of impropriety and even conflict of interest in media and social forums by those involved with the disqualified steer.
Dr. Miller is a long-time veterinarian and well-respected member of the Alberta agricultural community. There was no conflict of interest when the Stampede requested that the steer be cared for at the farm of Dr. Don Miller pending the results of the drug tests. This had no bearing on the drug test outcome as the blood samples had already been taken. And, there was no conflict of interest involving a competition entry by Dr. Miller’s son, as has been suggested. His son’s steer was entered in a different steer class, not in direct competition with the disqualified steer. The fact is that the Alberta livestock exhibition community is very entwined, with volunteers, judges and entrants often coming from the same families or and ranches.
The Agricultural Review Panel heard all the information available and upheld the disqualification and our actions in this situation. Furthermore, the review confirmed that Dr. Miller’s actions and reputation were beyond reproach, and at no time was there a conflict of interest involving Dr. Miller or members of his family.
Bottom line –our officials, employees and volunteers did the right thing through a challenging situation.
We recognize that doing the right thing may not be popular with everyone – especially affected directly - but the Calgary Stampede will continue to implement rules and practices that ensure fair and safe animal competitions and we will come down solidly and decisively upon violations. We believe this is what our exhibitors, stakeholders and public would expect of us.