Many of the world’s biggest bodybuilders are in Columbus Thursday for the start of the annual Arnold Sports Festival. But once again, there will not be a competitive women’s bodybuilding event.
That’s led one woman to complain to the city about what she calls gender discrimination.
Beth Mandyck is a bodybuilder from New York who’s won local competitions and placed in national events. She’d hoped to travel to Central Ohio to compete in the Arnold, but was sad to discover the festival no longer offers competitive women’s bodybuilding.
Brent LaLonde, the festival’s spokesman, says the women’s bodybuilding event was dropped in 2013 because it was growing increasingly unpopular.
“The Arnold Amateur eliminated the division of ‘women's bodybuilding’ in 2013 due to lack of demand, industry trends and the division being eliminated by the International Federation of Body Building, which was our partner in the event at that time,” LaLonde wrote in an email.
LaLonde says the festival now offers six competitions for women only, compared to three for men only. Events open to women and not men include two bikini competitions. The women’s events also include a “physique” competition that LaLonde says has been more popular than bodybuilding.
But Mandyck says it’s not the same. She says in bodybuilding, competitors pose with arms curled and flexed biceps.
“For this physique competition, your hand has to be open. It’s more of a dance or pose,” Mandyck says.
The physique competition also has women compete in high-heeled shoes, although Mandyck says Arnold organizers told her the shoes were not required. She still declined to participate.
"I want this to be fair," Mandyck says. "I would love for the promoters to do the right thing and just include (women's bodybuilding)."
On January 5, Mandyck filed a gender discrimination complaint with the Columbus Service Center, which operates the city’s 3-1-1 helpline. In a response sent two weeks later, Mayor Andrew Ginther's deputy chief of staff Kenneth Paul wrote, "In speaking with the event organizer, we were informed that there is nothing to prevent you from competing in the Women’s Physique Championships in bare feet. Further, none of the competitors in this division of competition are required to wear high heels."
The response does not address a lack of women's bodybuilding, although another email from LaLonde to Paul says it's clear there is no gender bias at the festival. LaLonde also says that "there has been no action on the complaint and no evidence to date that the complaint has merit.”
The Arnold Sports Festival takes place at the Greater Columbus Convention Center, which is operated by the Franklin County Convention Facilities Authority. LaLonde says the competition features about 350 male competitors and 350 female competitors.
Mandyck’s complaint has the support of 10-time Ms. Olympia Iris Kyleand, former Olympic gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar, the advocacy group Champion Women, and the Women’s Sports Foundation.