Victorian gyms facing financial ruin

Reopening of Victorian gyms and fitness centres “won’t be enough”, with frustrated owners saying their businesses are on the verge of financial ruin and will need relief to continue operating.

Body & Soul Genesis Ballarat owner Mel Tempest said about 40 per cent of gym users across 84 fitness facilities in the Ballarat region had cancelled their gym memberships.

“When we do open our doors, we’ve got to have money to be able to do marketing and get people back into clubs,” she said.

“These clubs have had no income for six months – we can’t go to the bank for loans and get further into debt. We’ve just been forgotten.”

Gyms reopened after the first lockdown but were forced to close again before the start of Victoria’s second shutdown, and have not reopened since.

“Every club in regional Victoria wants to open in some sort of capacity,” Ms Tempest said.

“We opened before the second lockdown and have the booking app, swipe system, COVID management plans ready to go.”

Ms Tempest said every part of her club was taped off into 200 sqm areas, with just 20 people allowed in each.

“The majority of clubs did the same thing, despite having higher cases then as opposed to now – but now we’re in lockdown. It makes no sense,” she said.

Regional Victoria’s 14-day rolling virus average fell from 0.4 to 0.2 on Saturday – its lowest point since before the state’s second wave.

Premier Daniel Andrews had hinted at further easing restrictions on Sunday, but that plan has been thrown into doubt after coronavirus clusters connected to multiple schools across Melbourne’s north grew overnight.

“This second lockdown has almost been like a grieving process,” Ms Tempest said.

“Gyms being closed for weeks meant momentum dropped off across the board everywhere – we went through our database and rang all our 200 members and the conversations were consistent – a loss of motivation, struggling to get out of bed and putting on weight.”

Ms Tempest said many centres and gyms had struggled to get government grants due to the industry being self-regulated.

“We don’t have a union or government body – we are battling this on our own,” she said.

Ms Tempest said financial relief was needed for affected clubs to help them climb out of debt, and called on the Ballarat council to waive rates for the current financial year.

State Labor MP for Wendouree Juliana Addison has also raised the issue with the local council and the Premier’s and Treasurer’s office.

Gyms were not among the list of industries, announced last Sunday, where restrictions would be eased.

When questioned about when they could reopen, Mr Andrews maintained they were “high-risk environments”, but did not rule them out from future announcements about easing restrictions.

“That’s not my opinion, that’s not a matter that I’ve come up with, that’s the international evidence,” he said.

“We’ve gone further in relation to outdoor (exercise), but it is a very challenging environment and it’s one of those things where no one’s taking any joy out of that.”

He said gyms were “unsafe” by nature and work was under way to determine when they could reopen.

“There’ll be a time when they can, and we’re looking at that closely, but I can’t just give them the news they want now, because it wouldn’t be safe to do that,” he said.

Ballarat council has been contacted for comment.

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