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Governor Issues Order Allowing Spectator Attendance to Arnold Sports Festival Finals

Taijuan Moorman Taijuan Moorman Governor Issues Order Allowing Spectator Attendance to Arnold Sports Festival FinalsPhoto by Matt Ellis.
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Editor’s note 3/5/2020, 10:00 a.m.: New details on the Arnold Sports Festival have been added as organizers and officials give clarification on what the event will entail.

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther held a press conference Tuesday evening to address concerns about the annual Arnold Sports Festival, announcing that the festival would not take place as planned.

Changes to the festival — which takes place in venues around Columbus and is one of the city’s largest tourism events, if not the largest — comes as concerns over the spread of the coronavirus COVID-19 increases nationally as well as globally.

The festival will still hold competitions with athletes and family members as scheduled, however the festival’s trade show and expo portions are now canceled.

In a Wednesday evening press conference, festival organizers said they are negotiating with officials to open the athletic competitions to the public, emphasizing that no more than a couple thousand spectators attend the individual competitions. However, a response from the governor and mayor’s offices

“We remain gravely concerned that the event still poses a unique and unacceptable risk for the spread of COVID-19 for guests and the community,” read the press release sent out Wednesday night. “We are also concerned that almost all the other competitions at the festival are not single ticket events and are rather general admission, which allows for spectators to attend dozens of events and travel freely from facility to facility.”

The governor later issued an order which prohibits the public from attending events as part of the Arnold Sports and Fitness Expo at the convention center, Ohio Expo Center and Hyatt Regency Columbus; and allows the parents and guardians of minors competing in an event at the festival to attend.

Finally, the order allows spectators at the following events on Friday, March 6 and Saturday, March 7 in the Battelle Grand at the Columbus Convention Center:

  • Fitness International Finals (Friday)
  • Figure International Finals (Friday)
  • Women’s Physique Finals (Friday)
  • Classic Physique Finals (Friday)
  • Men’s Physique Finals (Saturday)
  • Arnold Classic Finals (Saturday)
  • Arnold Strongman Classic (Saturday)
  • Bikini International Finals (Saturday)

Around 20 athletes from China, Iran, Italy, Japan and South Korea — the countries that have seen the largest amount of coronavirus cases — will not participate. An expected 22,000 athletes from nearly 80 countries have planned to take part.

Bob Larimer, son of event founder Jim Lorimer, said there are already 10,000 athletes currently in Columbus for the competition and turning them away would be a “travesty.”

In a video posted by the festival on Facebook Tuesday evening, former California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger announced the cancelation of the convention, calling it a “very sad day.” However, Schwarzenegger said the festival will be held later this year.

“I think it was a wise decision because under the circumstances, listening to the governor’s concern, the mayor’s concern, the CDC’s concern…” he said. “I think it was the right thing to do.”

“We want to keep people safe and we want to keep people healthy,” he said. “We are the biggest and the best in the world, but making money is less important than being healthy.”

So far Columbus Public Health reports no cases of the coronavirus in Ohio, however, 12 states and over 75 countries currently have confirmed cases. Some areas of the country are experiencing “community spread” of the virus, meaning people have been infected with the virus in their communities, including some people who do not know how where they became infected.

In addition to government leaders and health experts, public concern has also been a factor to concerns over the festival. On Sunday, a change.org petition began circulating calling on the governor to cancel the event, though the Arnold Sports Festival is a privately-run event. As of Wednesday morning, the petition has been signed nearly 11,000 times.

The 2020 Arnold Sports Festival takes place March 5-8.

For more updates on the Arnold Sports Festival, visit arnoldsportsfestival.com/usa.

Find regular status updates on COVID-19 cases in Ohio here.

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