“It’s up to you,” White said in an interview with Yahoo! Sports. “It’s your decision.”
But the promotion is also requiring fans to undertake a basic safety measure against the spread of COVID-19 by filling out a health questionnaire designed to reveal if they may have recently been exposed to the virus. And it has also offered fans access to enhanced face coverings provided by a mask partner.
UFC 261 takes place Saturday at VyStar Veteran’s Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., while UFC 262 takes place May 15 at Toyota Center in Houston.
In a pair of press releases, the UFC announced partnerships for the events with CLEAR, a secure identity platform whose apps expedite security screening and ticketing at airports and events, and O2 industries, which will provide masks for fans.
CLEAR promises to securely link fans with “multiple layers of COVID-19-related health information to help reduce public health risk” while protecting medical privacy. For UFC 261, however, the only requirement for entry is the completion of the health questionnaire, according to a person with knowledge of its use at the event on Saturday.
Fans are encouraged to fill out the questionnaire by downloading CLEAR’s free app; those who don’t will be required to fill out a paper version at the arena (the UFC’s press release doesn’t include any information on what happens if ticket holders are dishonest on their application). Those deemed to have been exposed to the virus will not be admitted, the release states.
The safety measures arrive as several U.S. states begin to relax or eliminate capacity requirements for live events. The UFC is the first promotion to allow full capacity crowds at indoor arenas.
One year ago, the promotion drafted an extensive safety protocol to satisfy city and state officials before promoting a trio of live events at VyStar Veteran’s Memorial Arena. The protocol was subsequently used when the promotion established a residency at the UFC APEX facility it owns in Las Vegas. The protocol was known to be revised on at least two occasions: After a positive test from UFC middleweight Ronaldo “Jacare” Souza prior to UFC 249, and this past December after a spate of fight-day positives.
The promotion’s other home during the height of the pandemic, Fight Island, employed strict COVID-19 precautions in a “bubble” that reportedly was the idea of Khaldoon Al Mubarak, the chief executive officer and managing director of Abu Dhabi’s sovereign wealth fund.
The measures were aimed at protecting fighters, White told Yahoo!, but he also claimed they were put in place to protect the media.
“The media was being so crazy about the COVID thing, you had to make the media safe,” he said. “And that’s where I think we were just as successful as keeping the fighters safe.”
Since the outbreak of the pandemic, White has repeatedly downplayed the severity of the COVID-19 virus, comparing it to the flu, and refused to divulge information about testing protocols and frequency. The UFC exec repeatedly has blamed the media for its coverage of the promotion and starred in a propaganda-like video – later deleted – that specifically targeted reporters who questioned whether the company should hold live events during the pandemic.
White said the same safety protocols will be in place for the fighters. He added all UFC employees in Nevada have also received the COVID-19 vaccination. Asked whether the same efforts had been undertaken for the fighters, he said it was their responsibility.
Both UFC 261 and UFC 262 have quickly sold out, breaking arena records. Ticket holders for the event are warned they may be exposed to COVID-19 and could be permanently disabled or die as the result of contracting 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 case count and those hospitalized with the virus have slightly increased, though the overall number of deaths are decreasing.