Coronavirus: Gyms, sports academies welcome news of possible resumption; most planning new safety measures

SINGAPORE – After an agonising two months, members of the sports and fitness industry are finally seeing a glimmer of hope.

This follows National Development Minister Lawrence Wong’s announcement on Thursday (May 28) that the move to Phase 2 of the post-circuit breaker measures, which also mean an easing of of restrictions around sports facilities, could be done before July.

Mr Sean Tan, director of the True Group, said the sports and fitness industry has been given “renewed hope” by the announcement.

The True Group, which runs 10 gyms in Singapore, saw its revenue in April and May plummet by more than 85 per cent, but Mr Tan and his staff have spent the circuit breaker period attending international fitness webinars and interacting with overseas operators to learn best practices, in anticipation of resuming operations.

They have also have been refining plans for measures like safe distancing, restrictions on group class sizes and capacity controls, which True had put in place before the circuit breaker period.

Yet, Mr Tan and most operators The Straits Time spoke to are adopting a cautious approach to a possible reopening, and are anticipating a slow recovery.

Mr Anil Chugani, the country manager of Fitness First Singapore, said that while surveys of its members found that most are looking forward to returning to the gym environment, the chain is also aware that most people will continue to work from home even in Phase 2.

“As such, one of the strategies we have in mind is to continue with the creation of online content so members can continue to gain access to their favourite programmes and instructors when they are working from home or if getting to a club will not be convenient,” he said.

With the likelihood that some form of safe distancing measures will still be required, Ms Radhika Radhakrishnan, chief financial officer of private football academy F17, said it has made plans to reduce the number of participants per class and assign a maximum of five kids to each coach, down from the usual 12.

“But I am not getting my hopes high, as safety is the priority,” she said. “I am worried that there might be a second wave (of Covid infections), so even if we do not start before July, it’s fine. It is better to be safe than sorry.”

Singapore swimming icon Ang Peng Siong, the managing director of the APS Swim School, said it would continue measures it had introduced before the circuit breaker period, such as setting up hand sanitiser stations around the pool area and ensuring social distancing measures and regular temperature taking.

He pointed out that there has been no evidence suggesting that the virus can be spread through chlorinated water. However, others have noted that while that may be the case, swimming does not preclude interactions outside the water, at areas such as the poolside and in changing rooms.

Mr Ang added that the school, which operates at the Farrer Park Swimming Complex, will still take extra steps, such as equipping its swim teachers with diving gloves, face shields and waterproof face masks.

Still, he expects some customers to stay away for the time being, and estimated it would take between six and 12 months before operations “get back to normal”. Because of this, government aid to alleviate any additional costs from new protocols “would be useful”.

“We have already come out from our pockets in terms of the salary for our employees and the maintenance of the facility,” said Mr Ang, who added that the school has no intention of increasing its fees. “I think most businesses want to do their part to ensure that things do not get worse when we open up.”

Mr Russell Harrison, owner and managing director of Spartans Boxing Club, said he is eager to learn from the Government what is required of gyms before operations can resume.

“From a gym owner’s perspective, the sooner we can get clarity on what we can do, the better it would be,” he said, adding that the added cost of implementing any new measures or protocols was not a concern for his outfit.

Mr Chugani said Fitness First – which closed its 19 clubs on March 27 – was “unable to ascertain” how the cost of its operations would be affected as details from the Government on resumption of operations for gyms have not been shared.

Mr Tan, meanwhile, said that while it is inevitable some added measures will add “some costs” to operations, he believes they are necessary.

He added that True does not intend to pass on any possible additional costs of operation to its customers and would absorb them. But he felt that government subsidies would be required by most business operators if the authorities mandated gyms “put in place measures that go beyond what is commonly being used today around the world”.

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