A statement from our CEO, Marcus Kingwell, on the UK Government announcement that gyms and leisure centres will not open on 4 July 2020.
I was deeply disappointed and baffled by the government’s announcement that gyms and leisure centres could not re-open alongside pubs, restaurants and cinemas from 4 July.
I was disappointed for obvious reasons – that thousands of instructors, both employed and self-employed, would have to wait even longer before that could deliver their classes in person. But I was also disappointed that somehow other sectors had convinced the government that they were safe, and our sector had failed to do so. Or perhaps the case for physical activity and its impact on the health of the nation had not been put strongly enough? This led to my bafflement: since mid-May, I and my EMD UK colleagues had been working closely with Sport England, ukactive, CIMSPA, Sport & Recreation Alliance, UK Coaching and about 40 NGBs to plan for a safe re-opening of venues. A date, of course, was never set but all eyes were on 4 July. The plans were researched, drafted, consulted on, challenged, re-drafted, checked and signed-off. EMD UK’s own Group Ex Support Pack was signed-off by DCMS and I was on conference calls with senior civil servants who urged NGBs to write their own guidance and submit it to government. I honestly don’t know what else the sport and physical activity sector could have done. But something, somewhere, fell short.
Throughout all of the Covid19 period, we have been listening and responding to instructors from all over the country. Some have been telling us that small venues, boutique gyms and dance studios can control their hygiene and access far better than a big gym. Others are saying that they do not want to rush back inside, especially to venues where they widely have no say over the cleanliness of the studios. And many self-employed instructors have said that they will continue to deliver their classes online until such time as their venues can put in place the right health, safety and cleanliness measures. It’s a complex picture.
There is another element which mustn’t be overlooked. A huge amount of group exercise takes place in community centres, village halls and social venues. These types of venues are allowed to open from 4 July but they have been strongly advised not to allow sport or physical activity – another massive blow to instructors and their participants. The significance of this should not be underestimated: these venues provide exercise opportunities in communities and neighbourhoods where gyms don’t exist. These include the most deprived communities in the country with the worst health outcomes.
For me, the starting point is this: the sooner venues are open, safely, the sooner instructors and participants will have a choice. Currently they can only practice group exercise online, with five others outside or not at all. Not much of a choice. Open the venues safely, then the people can decide.
That’s why I’ve signed the petition urging the government to reconsider its verdict and I am writing to my MP. Please consider doing the same. I will also continue to work with our partners in the sport and physical activity sector, and with government, to answer every question, give every assurance and provide the right guidance to allow our venues to open as soon as possible.