(Photo: Alvaro Barrientos, AP)
Watch out! The Great Bull Run is coming to the U.S.
Organizers of the Pamplona-inspired event plan for several U.S. cities to unleash bulls to sprint through fenced-in courses as daredevils sprint to avoid being trampled.
The inaugural run is set for Aug. 24 in Richmond, Va. More events are planned for Georgia, Texas, Florida, California, Minnesota, Illinois and Pennsylvania.
Bull runs - when the animals are released to run alongside participants as spectators cheer - are common in Spain and have proven to be dangerous. Dozens of people are injured each year in the San Fermin festival at Pamplona, most by tripping and falling. Bulls have killed 15 people since record keeping began in 1924.
"By participating in the run, you accept the risk that you might be trampled, gored, rammed or tossed in the air by a bull, or bumped, jostled, tripped or trampled by your fellow runners," the event website states. "We do what we can to minimize those risks by using less-aggressive bulls than those used in Spain and allowing runners to hide in nooks and climb over the track fence if necessary, but make no mistake: you could get seriously injured in this event."
About 5,000 people have signed up to participate in the Virginia event, and the number grows by about 50 each day, Rob Dickens, co-founder and chief operating officer of The Great Bull Run told the Associated Press. And with 2,000 signed up for the Conyers, Ga., event, Dickens expects 5,000 to 7,000 to run there in October.
Bull runs have long been controversial. Some animal rights groups raise concerns over the treatment of the bulls.
"These events are a shameful example of cruelty for the sake of nothing more than entertainment and profit," Ann Chynoweth, senior director of The Humane Society of the United States' End Animal Cruelty and Fighting campaign, told the AP. "These companies put the health and safety of both humans and animals at risk, without the required federal oversight. We call on the USDA to investigate these entities immediately."
Organizers at the Great Bull Run say they are "wholly committed to the health and safety of the animals we work with."
"Unlike the running of the bulls in Spain, we don't kill the bulls in a bullfight, nor do we abuse them in anyway," organizers state on the event website. "We don't hit them, shock them or deprive them of food, water, light or sleep. In fact, we have a veterinarian on site at all times to make sure the bulls are treated properly and are perfectly healthy before, during and after each run."
Organizers of the U.S. events plan to include several safety features, making them "quite different than the running of the bulls in Spain," Dickens said.
Unlike the narrow, cobblestone streets of the Spanish runs, the U.S. events will use fencing that will include coves, or notches, so participants can get out of the way quickly.
Bulls will be released in waves of six at a time, giving the animals and people a "better opportunity to complete the course safely," Dickens said.
Before running, participants will be required to sign waivers. Dickens, an attorney, acknowledges that waivers won't prevent lawsuits but likened it to sky-diving or operating a rock-climbing wall: "The waivers for the most part ensure that even if you get sued, they're not going to win."
Organizers say they're planning each of U.S. events as an all-day experience, with plenty of activities such as a tomato fight, also modeled after a Spanish festival. But they hope the bull runs draw participants who have always wanted to participate but couldn't make the trip to Spain.
"You can go running down the street anytime you want, but to run with bulls - that's something that doesn't come along very often," Dickens said.
Contributing: Associated Press