The fitness industry is trying to optimistically build its case for gyms to reopen, as struggling operators face a bleak outlook and the fear some members will never return.
Like many sectors, the fitness industry was decimated at the flick of a switch last month when the Federal Government ordered non-essential businesses to shutter doors.
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Fitness Australia chief executive Barrie Elvish said he hoped federal and state governments would consider the “robust” health and safety measures gyms can deploy, as decisions get made about what businesses can reopen over the coming months.
Such strategies include staff wearing face masks and gloves, temperature checking, higher frequency cleaning, reduced class sizes and increased spacing of equipment.
“We believe gyms can safely reopen with social distancing and hygiene requirements in place,” Mr Elvish said.
The grim reality is, gyms could be one of the last businesses to be given the all-clear.
Each year the industry contributes $3 billion to the national economy, according to Fitness Australia.
David Noonan, who owns 11 Snap Fitness gyms across Sydney and Brisbane, told nine.com.au “the great unknown” was the single toughest factor he and others faced.
“We don’t know when this is going to stop or how long it is going to go for or what restrictions it is going to place on us in the future,” he said.
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He described telling his 85 staff they were being stood down as “one of the most distressing” things he’d ever done in his life.
“It’s the unknown, the uncertainty. We’re always able to plan ahead and think about how to deal with something, no matter how negative or positive that might be. But not now.”
Many gym owners in Australia were “mum and dad” operations, he said, and it was “natural to expect” some in the business won’t reopen.
The NSW opposition health minister, Ryan Park, said countless gym owners and franchisees were under enormous pressure and doing it “really tough” at the moment.
“I can’t see them coming back on board any time soon,” he said, also acknowledging gyms had been one of the first businesses forced to close.
Gyms faced difficult challenges to manage social distancing and to ensure equipment was COVID-19-free, he said.
“Unfortunately, with this virus that is a very big risk.”
Health advice on gyms and reopening had not been finalised, Mr Park said.
Jiu Jitsu and Karate black belt Ian Pollet, who owns around a dozen martial arts academies across NSW, is running online classes until he can open up again.
But even when he gets the green light, Mr Pollet fears what sort of shape Australia’s fitness sector will be in.
“Our industry will suffer quite heavily,” he said.
“There will be members we lose forever. As much as people say they will come back, the reality is that after three or four months of no classes some will be gone.”
He optimistically hoped that unconfirmed rumours of a June opening might be true.
But he conceded no-one had “any idea” if that was feasible or not.
“The government has to look at the numbers and the safety for the community.”
Mr Pollet said he’d seen nothing like this in his 40 years in the business.
“We don’t really know what the outcome will be.
“There are times we have to fight through slow periods, but this is the worst I have ever seen it.”
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