CALGARY -- It’s official and it comes as a punch to the gut for many Calgarians. The 2020 Calgary Stampede has been cancelled in response to the ongoing global COVID-19 pandemic.

The decision follows Tuesday night's meeting of the Stampede Board of Directors.

"As a not-for-profit, we knew that any decision was going to be a larger decision about the community, about everybody that would be affected economically through this process and it was not a decision that we came by lightly," said Dana Peers, Calgary Stampede president and board chairman.

"But it is a decision that is the best interest of public health and safety."

The cancellation is the first in the history of the Calgary Stampede since it became an annual event in 1923.

The rodeo, midway, Rangeland Derby, vendors and parties draw in more than a million people over the 10 day event but the large crowds conflict with current social distancing measures put in place to slow the spread of the virus.

Dr. Deena Hinshaw, Alberta's chief medical officer of health, said Thursday Albertans are prohibited from attending any events of more than 15 people, and gatherings of fewer than 15 people must still respect the two-metre physical distancing guidelines.

The guidelines will remain in place for the foreseeable future.

"We have seen that festivals and large gatherings hold the potential to be super-spreader events where one sick person can expose many others to the virus, spreading COVID-19 across households, communities, and even large geographical distances," she said.

The Calgary Stampede avoided cancellation during the Great Depression, the Second World War and the flooding of the Bow and Elbow Rivers in 2013, but the COVID-19 pandemic proved too risky for an event that brings together hundreds of thousands of spectators.

Aside from the blow to civic pride, the cancellation will take its toll financially. According to the Stampede board, the event pumps $400 million into the local economy each year.

The decision is also a blow to Stampede athletes, however Codey McCurrach, a driver with the World Professional Chuckwagon Association, said the decision makes perfect sense.

"It's going to affect us dramatically economically," he said.

"Without that revenue coming in to race wagons and support the business that you love, it's not like we're getting rich at it. The guys drive due to the love of the sport."

While Stampede supporters are disappointed by the decision, the cancellation comes as little surprise given the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The City of Calgary’s ban on all public events remains in effect and is currently in place until the end of June — three days ahead of what would have been the start of Stampede on July 3.