Arnold Sports Festival Spectators Were Allowed, Then Prohibited Again In Confusing Series of Announcements

We are clearing up all the miscommunication over past several days.

The circumstances and communication surrounding the four-day 2020 Arnold Sports Festival, which began today in Columbus, Ohio have caused significant confusion over the past couple of days. Here is a timeline of what happened when and where things currently stand.

Tuesday Evening: The Cancelation

Ohio Governor Mike DeWine and Columbus Mayor Andrew Ginther, alongside public health officials and Arnold Schwarzenegger via phone, held a press conference to announce their decision to cancel the Fitness Expo and prohibit spectators at the Arnold due to concerns about the spread of the coronavirus. The one exception was the IFBB finals on Friday and Saturday evening, where spectators would be allowed. Otherwise, “limited” athletic competitions would still happen as originally scheduled, just without the public watching. Precisely which events would still be happening was unclear.

The decision came at the behest of advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and its guidance for mass gatherings. The Arnold was expected to draw over 200,000 people from over 80 different countries.


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An events schedule confirming which events were cancelled was updated shortly thereafter.

Wednesday: The Uncancelation

Some athletes began weighing the risk versus reward of competing at the Arnold with the looming fear of the coronavirus and the additional athlete screenings the Arnold planned to adopt. Weightlifter Katherine Nye decided to withdraw from the American Open Series 1 (a.k.a. the Arnold Weightlifting Championships) due to the lack of attendees and additional complications of the screening process.

Nye’s teammate, Mattie Rogers, shared her concerns on Twitter about competing in an event that would be absent spectators:

Late on Wednesday, Bob Lorimer, co-organizer of the Arnold, in an interview with powerlifter David Baye posted on the Arnold’s Instagram Live stated that spectators would be allowed to attend.


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Note: all bolding done by BarBend editorial team for emphasis.

“This is uncharted territory…other events have cancelled around the world…we’re doing our best. It makes sense to cancel events where people are just mingling and there’s large crowds because that’s how the [coronavirus] gets happened. The city of Columbus called a press conference yesterday and they cancelled this without even consulting with us. The fact is, we regained control today( …) We are keeping all the sports events open, we welcome spectators. We want athletes to come. We want the fans that are following athletes to come.”

Baye went on to conclude:

“Through the diligent work of Bob, (Lorimer’s father), Arnold, and everybody associated with the Arnold Sports Festival, they have gotten it to where they’ve made an agreement with the city where we are allowing spectators and fans to come and watch.

According to ABC 6, on Wednesday night, Governor DeWine and Mayor Ginther threatened legal action if the organizers of the Arnold do not “continue to follow a plan agreed upon Tuesday.”

Thursday: The Recancelation

While the confusion as to whether spectators were allowed at the Arnold held overnight, weightlifting took place as scheduled, and without spectators.

Daniel Ketchell, Arnold Schwarzenegger’s chief of staff, held a presser to address an order given from the Ohio state department of health. Watch it below courtesy of WSYX ABC 6‘s Facebook page:

Note: Ketchell begins the presser at 1:13.


“The governor’s office has told us that we will not be allowed to have any attendees aside from parents and guardians. At the same time, I would like to ask why events with far more people than any of our sports here at the Arnold Sports Festival are continuing to go on?

Ketchell highlights that the Fitness Expo, which would have happened where the presser was taking place, was cancelled despite the volume of people anticipated to attend and the immense monetary loss endured from the Expo’s cancellation.

“We are taking coronavirus incredibly seriously (…) as Governor Schwarzenegger said, we prefer losing money if we’re protecting people’s’ health.”

Ketchell made clear that he feels the Arnold was unfairly treated compared to other large sporting events taking place in Ohio. He cited the average attendance of eighteen thousand people for Cleveland Cavaliers’ games, which have not been cancelled. He did the same for the similar attendance of the Columbus Blue Jackets game scheduled for next week. He continues:

“Meanwhile, our event, where the biggest sports like cheerleading and gymnastics have four thousand attendees is not allowed to have any attendees and I would just like to ask why we’re being singled out.

Despite seeming to defend the position of allowing spectators, during the questions portion of the presser, Ketchell confirmed that the organizers of the Arnold have no intention of engaging in a legal battle with the Governor’s office.

This is new information: originally, it was made clear spectators could only come to the Saturday night competition, now they appear to be allowed on Friday night as well.

Current Status of the Arnold

It is clear that the adjustments that have had to be made at the Arnold by both the organizers and those at the state level have caused a lot of miscommunication. However, here is what we know for sure regarding spectator attendance as the Arnold heads into the weekend:

  • Spectators are not allowed to attend any event at the Arnold unless they are a parent or guardian of an athlete competing.
    • The only exceptions to this are the IFBB and Arnold Strongman Classic finals taking place on Friday and Saturday evening.
  • The Fitness Expo is cancelled, including the trade show and all vendor booths.

Most sporting events are still happening as originally scheduled with some adjustments made to location for certain events.

Feature image from Arnold Sports Festival’s Instagram Live: @arnoldsports