Arnold Sports Festival Bars Spectators, Cancels Expo Amid Coronavirus Concerns

Mar 4, 2020

The Arnold Sports Festival in Columbus has become the largest mass gathering in the U.S. to be all but cancelled because of concerns surrounding the potential spread of the coronavirus.

The biggest multi-sport festival in the world will not allow spectators at competitions and its large fitness expo has been canceled.

Gov. Mike DeWine (R-Ohio) made the announcement Tuesday evening in response to the CDC's newest guidelines for large events and mass gatherings addressing the potential spread of the coronavirus, which causes the disease COVID-19.

DeWine said the finals for competitions held on Saturday evening are still open to the public, which are ticketed events. Arnold Sports Festival spokespeople did not return a request for comment seeking more information about those events.

The Arnold Expo is certainly a mass gathering. It attracts more than 200,000 people from as many as 80 countries, which DeWine says creates an unacceptable risk.

"The circumstances at the Arnold are ideal for the spread of disease. The fact that the Arnold mainly takes place in a confined, indoor space creates an environment that is much more conducive for the spread of the virus," says DeWine.

The Arnold Sports Festival, which happens during the Arnold Expo, features a variety of competitions from martial arts to bodybuilding. There are more than 22,000 athletes expected to participate.

Athletes from China, South Korea, Italy, Iran, and Japan will not be permitted to compete in the festival. These are countries on the CDC's travel notification list.

Columbus Public Health Commissioner Mysheika Roberts says they are also screening athletes as they arrive at the John Glenn Columbus International Airport.

"And asking them certain questions about exposure to COVID-19, whether they have a fever in the last 24 hours and if they've come from one of the affected countries," says Roberts.

Media representatives for the Arnold Sports Festival did not return a request for comment.

Brian Ross, Experience Columbus president and CEO, says it's too early to tell how canceling the expo might impact economic turnout, which usually generates about $53 million. However, Ross says they're reaching out to other attractions like the Columbus Zoo, COSI, and the National Veterans Memorial and Museum to see if they can offer discounts for people who were planning on going to the expo.

"We can get out into the community now so they can have a different experience while they're here," says Ross.

So far, Ohio has no confirmed cases of COVID-19.

With Mayor Ginther beside him, DeWine said he recognized the weight of this decision, adding that addressing coronavirus concerns means constantly staying on top of the facts and making the best call that they can.

"The two of us took an oath to protect the people that we represent and that's why we're here today with this decision," DeWine says.

People in the Columbus fitness world were anxiously waiting to find out if the growing concerns over the coronavirus would impact this year's festival.

Pam Waugh, owner of Body Fit Training Facility in Grove City, has spent months training Masie Swackhammer for this year's bikini and modeling competitions. She was excited to learn Tuesday evening that the Arnolds Sports Festival will still allow coaches and family members of athletes to watch the competitions.

Ohio has investigated six possible cases of COVID-19, all six tests sent to the CDC came back negative for the disease. More than 200 people in the state are in self-quarantine after returning from trips to China.