Governor DeWine and Mayor Ginther urge Arnold Fitness Festival organizers to abide by Tuesday plan not to allow spectators

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) — Governor Mike DeWine and Mayor Andrew Ginther are not on the same page with Arnold Sports Festival organizers about fans being allowed the festival’s athletic events.

Wednesday night the festival’s website notified fans spectators would be welcome at the athletic events. Late Wednesday night Gov. DeWine’s office released a joint letter from his office and Mayor Ginther’s to Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger and Arnold Festival Organizers. In it, the Central Ohio leaders urge Gov. Schwarzenegger and organizers to follow Tuesday’s agreement.

Here’s the full letter from Gov. DeWine and Mayor Ginther:

Dear Governor Schwarzenegger and Mr. Lorimer,

On Tuesday, we all understood what the agreement was between the Arnold Sports Festival, the city of Columbus, and the state of Ohio about how the competition would proceed. Athletes would continue to compete. Parents would be able to watch their children compete. Trainers, coaches, and officials running the competition would play their part. Spectators would be able to attend certain single ticketed events, such as the Arnold Classic, Arnold Men’s Physique, Bikini International & Arnold Strongman Classic Finals, and Classic Physique, Fitness International, Figure International & Women’s Physique Finals (four events each Friday and Saturday nights). No spectators would be able to attend other associated events due the risk of community spread of COVID-19. It made sense that the decision about a health and wellness festival was made with the health and wellness of its fans in mind.

We met with your staff today to consider your revised request to consider allowing spectators in absence of the Expo, and to consider additional information provided by your staff. After consideration of this information, 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. These concerns include the attendance of individuals from more than 80 countries and from other parts of the United States, including states affected by COVID-19. 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. These facts make this unique event significantly different than any other event we know of in this state.

We stand united in our expectation that this event and its organizers abide by the original agreement reached Tuesday. In the event that organizers fail to comply with our agreement, we stand ready to take appropriate action under Ohio law to protect the health and safety of the residents of the State of Ohio and our guests.

Tuesday the governor announced the festival’s expo would be canceled and the athletic events would go on but without spectators allowed in.

“Yesterday we had about 30 minutes to make this decision. We did not have all the information in front of us,” said Daniel Ketchel, Schwarzenegger’s Chief of Staff. “After researching further this morning we’ve asked the mayors and governors office that we can have spectators.” 

Festival organizers have said since fans are being allowed at other big sporting events in the area this weekend, spectators should be allowed at Arnold events too.

Government and health officials announced Tuesday that this year’s event will go on as scheduled, but due to concerns about the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, spectators would be barred from the event and the trade show is canceled. Wednesday evening, organizers said they were negotiating with the city and state to allow spectators at athletic events.

Shortly before 8:30 p.m. Wednesday, the event tweeted that “family, friends and fans are welcome to watch their favorite athletes compete.”

Tickets are available on-site, according to the event’s website.

The expo remains closed.

“Our plan is to have spectators unless we are told that we absolutely can not,” said Ketchel.

Organizers stressed that having spectators at events will bring nowhere near the number of people that the trade show brings.

“We already have 10,000 athletes that are already in Columbus. They’re here, they’re in hotels. To turn them away when they’re already here is a travesty,” said Bob Larimer. “We did turn vendors down because we do know that’s the basis of the crowd that comes here.”

Bob Larimer said no event will have more than a couple thousand people in attendance.

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