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California Fitness

Hong Kong organiser of Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sports festival unfazed in face of California Fitness shutdown

Festival chairman, who endorsed city for Asian instalment of extravaganza, says he was not worried as sports and fitness increasingly popular in Hong Kong, which also hosts sporting events such as the Hong Kong Sevens

PUBLISHED : Friday, 05 August, 2016, 4:38pm
UPDATED : Friday, 05 August, 2016, 11:47pm

The recent citywide closure of gym chain California Fitness did not faze a key figure involved in bringing Hollywood star Arnold Schwarzenegger’s sport festival to Hong Kong.

The Arnold Classic Asia Multi-Sport Festival will be the first such one in Asia since the event, originally an American bodybuilding contest, was co-founded by the former California governor 40 years ago, and which has since conquered other continents.

The world’s largest annual multi-sport event will be held in the city’s AsiaWorld-Expo in Chek Lap Kok from August 20 to 21.

This comes just a month after JV Fitness, one of the biggest gym operators in the city, shut down all its 12 outposts of California Fitness, mYoga, and Leap across town.

Tickets on sale for Jimmy Carr and Arnold Schwarzenegger in Hong Kong, Fatboy Slim in Macau

But festival chairman Richard Petty, who endorsed the city when he was giving advice to the movie star on choosing an Asian location, did not waver on his pick.

“I think sport and fitness is popular already and it’s becoming increasingly popular ... [especially] if you look at wearable technologies and devices that help people understand their physical heath,” he told the Post.

The Australian, who moved to Hong Kong 20 years ago as an academic and businessman, also said that the trilingualism in Hong Kong and the city’s hosting of the Hong Kong Sevens, a world-renowned rugby match, helped it outshine its fellow competitors across Asia.

Speaking to the Post in an interview, Petty said the plan to bring the festival to Asia began to hatch in the middle of last year, and hit a turning point – when Hong Kong became a front runner for the Asian stop – in October.

Schwarzenegger will be back in Hong Kong next month

Petty, who became fascinated by the festival after attending one at its birthplace in Ohio earlier, recalled some of the conversations he had with Schwarzenegger.

“Hong Kong is a dynamic, vibrant city – Asia’s sports city. [And it’s] bilingual, trilingual,” he had told Schwarzenegger. “It’s a great travel destination for sporting events such as the rugby Sevens, [for] which a lot of people have been flying in already, knowing that Hong Kong is famous for sporting events like that,” Petty added.

Petty also noted that Hong Kong is part of China, where the growing interest in fitness can be particularly felt. The Hong Kong festival is partnered with Alisports, partly held by the Alibaba Group which owns the South China Morning Post.

In October, Petty, who is also chairman of the Australian Chamber of Commerce Hong Kong and Macau, finally got a chance to take the former professional bodybuilder to the AsiaWorld-Expo for a visit.

“Fantastic,” Petty cited him as saying in the iconic accent the Austria-born movie star was known for. He said Schwarzenegger found the location perfect after considering the infrastructure and vibrancy the city had to offer.

The official decision was made in December, and about a month later, he and the Terminator star, whom he met originally through a mutual friend, could not wait to get things moving.

Also involved was Schwarzenegger’s business partner Jim Lorimer and their team, together with a local advisory committee headed by Herman Hu Shao-ming, chairman of the City University’s council, and various local sports bodies.

First founded by Schwarzenegger in 1976 as a bodybuilding contest, the festival then expanded to include other sports in 1989. Its current version now features a wide range of activities including martial arts, arm wrestling, and chess.

Since its inception, the sport extravaganza – offering contests, beginner’s sessions and latest displays on health and fitness products – has spread to five continents, each attracting at least 30,000 attendees. The Ohio stop boasts the highest number of about 200,000 people, Petty said.

The Hong Kong version, Petty said, will be getting its own local touch: among the new additions are rugby, the first to be included in any of the festivals, and street workout, an increasingly popular sport among locals who make use of recreational amenities at parks to perform gravity-defying stunts.

Petty stopped short of naming the other contenders for the Asia stop, but stressed that the festival was going to be a family-friendly one that suits all generations.

“What they can expect is a lot of fun, energy and excitement, and,of course, Arnold and other sporting stars,” he said.