Arnold Sports Festival cancels convention due to coronavirus, will allow athletes to compete

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UPDATE: Arnold Sports Festival: Friends, family and fans welcome to watch athletic competitions.

COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Government and health officials announced Tuesday evening that this year’s Arnold Sports Festival will go on as scheduled, but due to concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, spectators are barred from the event and the trade show is canceled.

The competition for athletes, however, will be allowed to continue.

One exception for spectators is the Arnold Classic World Bodybuilding Championship finals, scheduled for Saturday night at the Greater Columbus Convention Center. The finals had prepaid tickets and are in an arena-style setting, minimizing the fear of the spread of the virus.

Gov. Mike DeWine and Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther held a joint press conference Tuesday announcing the change. Arnold Schwarzenegger joined the press conference via telephone.

DeWine said new guidance Tuesday from the Centers for Disease Control on large public gatherings led to the decision to close the convention and trade show.

“We all decided to move forward with the athlete competition of the Arnold Classic, but not to allow spectators or the trade show to continue, with the exception of the Arnold Classic Finals on Saturday night at the convention center,” DeWine said.

Columbus Public Health will be monitoring more than 22,000 athletes as they arrive for the competitions. The health department will be meeting the athletes at the airport and questioning them about their recent travel.

Myshieka Robert, the Columbus Public Health commissioner, said the health department has the staff to monitor that number of people coming into Columbus, but can’t screen more than that.

Robert said the department won’t monitor athletes from five countries where there’s an outbreak of COVID-19.

“All athletes from China, Italy, Japan, Iran, and South Korea will be excluded from participating in the event,” she said.

Columbus Public Health staff members have already screened five athletes at John Glenn International Airport who are in Columbus for the Arnold.

They asked them the places they’ve traveled in the past two weeks and if they’ve been in contact with anyone who has COVID-19 over that same period of time. They will then ask if they had a fever in the past 24 hours and then take their temperature on the spot before the athletes are allowed to go to their hotels.

Initially, Ginther was set to hold a press conference with city health officials early on Tuesday, but that conference was canceled. The joint press conference with DeWine and state health officials was scheduled a few hours later.

“This situation is going to continue to spread,” said Amy Acton, director of the Ohio Department of Health. “We will see cases in Ohio eventually. We will see them and we will eventually see community spread.”

All the athletes participating in the event have received prevention messages from health officials and the festival. Those preventions include hand washing, coughing and sneezing into your elbow, and staying away from the public if you are showing symptoms of illness.

Both the convention and the trade show are expected to be rescheduled. However, details have not been released. Details regarding ticket refunds have also not been released.

Started in 1989, the Arnold is named for bodybuilder, actor, and former California governor Schwarzenegger. The event plays host to several sporting competitions including bodybuilding, fencing, gymnastics, pickleball, and many more. 

The event was expected to bring 250,000 people to Columbus, Schwarzenegger said, from 80 different countries.

“We would never choose making money over people’s health,” he said.

This is the first time the event has been interrupted.

All told, the event was expected to bring an estimated $50 million to the region.

For the athletes participating, the event is this weekend, March 5-8, at the Convention Center, the Columbus Expo, and other locations in central Ohio.

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