UFC President Dana White said Monday that fans who attend UFC 261 and UFC 262 are free to decide if they want to wear a mask in the arena during full-power events.
“The choice is yours,” White told Yahoo! Kinds of sports. “That’s your decision.”
But the promotion also requires fans to take basic security measures against the spread of COVID-19 by completing a health questionnaire designed to determine if they may have recently been exposed to the virus. And it also offered fans access to improved face masks provided by the mask partner.
UFC 261 will take place Saturday at the VyStar Veteran Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Florida, and UFC 262 will take place on May 15 at the Toyota Center in Houston.
In a couple of press releases, the UFC announced an event partnership with CLEAR, a secure identity platform that accelerates security checks and ticketing at airports and events, and O2 Industries, which will provide masks for fans.
CLEAR promises to reliably connect fans with “multiple layers of COVID-19-related health information to help reduce public health risks,” while protecting medical privacy. For UFC 261, however, the only entry requirement is filling out a health questionnaire, according to someone familiar with its use at Saturday’s event.
Fans are encouraged to fill out a questionnaire by downloading the free CLEAR app; Those who do not do so will have to fill out a paper version in the arena (the UFC press release does not contain any information on what happens if ticket holders apply dishonestly). Those suspected of being exposed to the virus will not be admitted, the message said.
Security measures come as several U.S. states begin to loosen or remove bandwidth requirements for live events. The UFC is the first to allow full gathering in indoor arenas.
A year ago, the promotion developed a detailed safety protocol to satisfy city and government officials before promoting three live events at the VyStar Veteran Memorial Arena. This protocol was subsequently used when the promotion created a residence at his UFC APEX facility in Las Vegas. The protocol was known to have been revised at least two times: following a positive test by UFC middleweight champion Ronaldo “Jacare” Sousa before UFC 249 and in December this year after a streak of positive results on fight day.
Another promotion house at the height of the pandemic, Fight Island, used stringent COVID-19 precautions in a bubble that was reportedly the idea of Khaldun Al Mubarak, CEO and managing director of the Abu Dhabi Sovereign Wealth Fund.
The measures were aimed at protecting the militants, White told Yahoo!, but he also argued that they were taken to protect the media.
“The media were so crazy about COVID that they needed to be made safe,” he said. “And this is where I think we have been as successful as we have been ensuring the safety of the fighters.”
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, White has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 virus, comparing it to the flu, and has refused to divulge testing protocols and frequency. The UFC chief executive has repeatedly accused the media of covering the action and starred in a propaganda-like video – later deleted – specifically aimed at reporters who questioned whether the company should broadcast live during the pandemic.
White said the same security protocols would apply to the fighters as well. He added that all UFC employees in Nevada were also vaccinated against COVID-19. When asked whether the same measures were taken against the militants, he said that it was their responsibility.
Both UFC 261 and UFC 262 sold out quickly, breaking arena records. Ticket holders for the event are being warned that they may be exposed to COVID-19 and could be permanently incapacitated or die as a result of infection with the virus.
Florida added 6,756 COVID-19 cases, an increase of 25 percent, and 39 deaths as of April 19, according to the New York Times. The total number of cases and the number of people hospitalized with the virus has increased slightly, although the total number of deaths is decreasing.