An urgent call has been made for gyms, swimming pools and leisure centres to be reclassified as essential services and remain open through any national ‘circuit break’ and in all areas with Tier 3 Covid-19 restrictions.
Almost 400,000 people have now signed a petition to prevent gyms again being forced to close, the Liverpool Mayor has written to Boris Johnson demanding the evidence for shutting fitness facilities and ukactive has urged the Welsh government to recognise the sector’s “central role” in building health resilience.
There is also growing anger inside the sports and recreation sector at the lack of progress over an emergency funding package at a time when more than 6,000 jobs have been lost and almost 300,000 more are at risk.
The sector believes that there is strong public support for its facilities to remain open and, with a petition to government having attracted almost double the signatures of a separate petition to let football fans back into stadiums, is now calling for its own parliamentary debate.
Ukactive, which represents public and private sector gyms across the country, has also asked the Welsh government to reconsider immediately its classification of gyms and leisure facilities as ‘non-essential’ businesses.
A statement said that their enforced closure from Friday “doesn’t take into account the vital issue of Wales’ health resilience and the fundamental role the gyms and leisure facilities play within this”.
They also highlighted strict protocols that have been in place to minimise the risk of spreading Covid-19 and data that has suggested a “very low” risk within gyms and leisure centres.
Steve Rotheram, the Metro Mayor of Liverpool, has also denied asking for gyms and leisure centres to be closed as part of the Tier 3 lockdown measures on Merseyside and questioned how the guidelines can now differ in other ‘very high risk’ areas like Lancashire and Great Manchester, where gyms and leisure centres have been permitted to remain open
“We simply cannot accept our region being treated differently to other Tier 3 areas without robust scientific evidence,” said Rotheram. “We are writing to request an immediate review of the government’s decision to close gyms and leisure centres in the Liverpool City region. If ministers are not able to provide this evidence, then we are asking that the government amends the regulations passed by parliament ... to rescind the inclusion of gyms and leisure centres from the list of restricted businesses and allow them to safely reopen at the earliest opportunity.”
The dispute over the closure of gyms in Liverpool comes after the sport and physical activity sector accused the government of “total inaction” over the ongoing absence of any dedicated rescue fund.
More than 150 sports bodies, including the Football Association, the England & Wales Cricket Board, the Premier League, the Lawn Tennis Association, the Rugby Football Union and UK Athletics, had signed a letter to Johnson last month that warned of a potential “lost generation” without emergency help.
The letter was written by Baroness Tanni Grey-Thompson, the 11-times Paralympic gold medallist and chair of ukactive, but the sector says that it has still not received a response.
They have asked for a dedicated sports recovery fund, the same VAT reduction that has been applied to the culture and hospitality sectors and a plan that will maximise access to sport and physical activity in the face of additional lockdown restrictions.
According to the Chartered Institute for the Management of Sport and Physical Activity, around 300,000 jobs are at risk if there is not a dedicated package of support. Almost half of all public leisure facilities are also said to be at risk of permanent closure by Christmas.