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Decision to cancel MWC 2020 'not based on money, but health and safety'

Organizers explain move with authorities amidst fears over global coronavirus outbreak

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13 February 2020 05:35 PM

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Cristina Tomàs White|Barcelona

Wednesday night's announcement that the 2020 Mobile World Congress, one of the world's largest tech fairs that was due to be held in Barcelona at the end of February, would be canceled has already made waves across Catalonia and beyond.

On Thursday morning, the organizers, GSMA, held a press conference with Catalan, Spanish, and local authorities in which they reiterated that the decision was not one "based on money, but health and safety" purposes after over 30 companies withdrew their participation over fears concerning the spread of the coronavirus.

"It is a very dark day, it is very disappointing, but we know the sun will shine. This is about our future together, and we look forward to hosting all of you, all of our partners from around the world, for MWC '21," explained John Hoffman, CEO of GSMA, after expressing his sympathies with those affected by the disease.

Hoffman also stated that the 2020 MWC could not be postponed because when exactly "the situation" will conclude cannot be predicted.  

Mats Granryd, Director General of GSMA, repeatedly described the situation as one of "force majeure," stressing that his organization and its decisions are not based on profit.

When asked why other large trade fairs are still taking place despite the global alarm the virus' outbreak has sounded, Granryd responded by reaffirming GSMA's stance: "What other events do is not our decision to comment on. [MWC] is the world's largest tech show, so we have a huge responsibility to make sure we have health and safety."

Authorities: cancellation not due to local conditions

Catalan and Spanish government authorities were present at Thursday's press conference, as were the mayors of Barcelona and the neighboring L'Hospitalet, where the fair venue is located.

All agreed in lamenting the decision but stated that they understood GSMA's reasons for going ahead with the drastic move due to global rather than local causes, and all also expressed a desire to continue working together in the future.

The MWC contract to hold the event in Catalonia runs until 2023, and while GSMA has frequently expressed gratitude towards having "such strong partners," what will happen three years from now is still up in the air.  

Barcelona mayor Ada Colau claimed that "everything was ready for the best edition of the MWC, but unexpected global events led to this decision," regretting the economic impact this will have before highlighting Barcelona's openness and collaborative spirit. 

Catalonia's digital policy minister, Jordi Puigneró, said that the government respected and understood GSMA's move to cancel the event, and celebrated the "success" the congress has brought "to our country," while Pau Relat of the Fira de Barcelona downplayed the negative economic impact the cancellation would have on the venue: "It is too soon to tell. We are optimistic."

Calling the growing concerns surrounding the virus first diagnosed in Wuhan part of an "epidemic of fear," the Spanish government delegate to Catalonia Teresa Cunillera emphasized that there are no public health risks in Barcelona, Catalonia or Spain. 

Núria Marín, mayor of L'Hospitalet, ended the round of speeches stating that she had always defended the positive impact the fair had on Catalonia's and Spain's economy.

"John said today was a very dark day, but it's always sunny in L'Hospitalet," Marín concluded, offering the GSMA CEO a friendly embrace.

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  • Catalan digital policy minister Jordi Puigneró, Spanish government delegate Teresa Cunillera, Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, Fira de Barcelona president Pau Relat, Mats Granryd and John Hoffman of GSMA and L'Hospitalet mayor Núria Marín (by Blanca Blay)

  • Catalan digital policy minister Jordi Puigneró, Spanish government delegate Teresa Cunillera, Barcelona mayor Ada Colau, Fira de Barcelona president Pau Relat, Mats Granryd and John Hoffman of GSMA and L'Hospitalet mayor Núria Marín (by Blanca Blay)

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