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Athletes express frustration over late decision-making for Arnold Sports Festival

Musa says it's the timing of the decision — two days before it starts — that he says is unfair to fans and the athletes who have spent money on travel and hotels to be here.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Since he was 18 years old, Yahya Musa of Columbus has dreamed of competing in front of thousands of people as an amateur bodybuilder at the Arnold Sports Festival.

The 38-year old nurse says he understands why health officials decided not to allow the public inside the event due to concerns over the spread of the coronavirus.

"Bummed, but honestly when it comes down to it, we want to prevent illness. So, if it was the right thing to do, it was the right thing to do," he says.

Musa says it's the timing of the decision — two days before it starts — that he says is unfair to fans and the athletes who have spent money on travel and hotels to be here.

On Wednesday, organizers said while the trade show and expo would be canceled, they are continuing to negotiate with state and city officials to allow spectators into events.

"It should have been done weeks in advance. Everyone knows the coronavirus has been spreading. It should have been done a long time ago," he said.

Melvin Mweemba and his friend Paul Mwanza flew to Columbus from Zambia, Africa, to compete in the Arnold Strongman competition.

They say taking the fans out of the event does impact their performance.

"The presence of spectators gives you an extra push and everyone is watching you do your thing, so that drives me," says Mweemba.

"Every strongman wants to be at the Arnold, so it's something we are looking forward to — to just have fun," says Mwanza.

Starting Thursday, 22,000 athletes will compete in this year's Arnold's Sports Classic and an expected crowd of 200,000 people were expected to attend.

People health officials now fear could be put at risk for the potential spread of the coronavirus.

Brooke Sousa of Westerville, and one of the top strongwomen in the world, says she was not in favor of excluding fans from the sports festival.

"I think it should be left up to the individual to decide, not for the city especially if there are no cases here now," she says.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued this statement on mass sporting events:

"A COVID-19 outbreak could last for a long time. Depending on the severity of the outbreak, public health officials may recommend community actions designed to limit exposure to COVID-19. Officials may ask you to modify, postpone, or cancel large events for the safety and well-being of your event staff, participants, and the community. The details of your emergency operations plan should be based on the size and duration of your events, demographics of the participants, complexity of your event operations, and type of on-site services and activities your event may offer."

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