PM announces good news for fitness industry

by S BIRRUNTHA / pic by MUHD AMIN NAHARUL

THE gym and fitness industry can finally expect some good news soon, following Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin Abu Bakar’s Twitter post yesterday.

“For gyms, @KKMPutrajaya will be jointly developing some ventilation guidelines with MKN (the National Security Council) that need to be adhered to. This will not take long but because of the nature of indoor fitness centres, we must stress on certain ventilation requirements. Working on it urgently,” he posted.

Mere hours after his post, Prime Minister Datuk Seri Ismail Sabri Yaakob announced the Klang Valley and Putrajaya will enter Phase 2 of the National Recovery Plan from tomorrow. Additionally, the government also agreed to relax the standard operating procedures (SOPs) for sports activities for states under Phase 1.

Among the rulings are indoor sports activities, except gyms, as well as indoor commercial sports and recreation facilities, will be allowed for individuals who have completed two doses of vaccine. Use of the facilities must be done by appointment, in addition to compliance with SOPs.

Earlier yesterday, the Youth and Sports Ministry had proposed that sports premises such as outdoor sports and gyms be given relaxation to operate.

Its Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu hoped that the Health Ministry would support the proposal to get the approval of the MKN, as many businesses had stopped “breathing”.

A survey conducted by the Malaysian Fitness Coalition in May among 245 respondents in the industry showed that gym owners faced estimated revenue losses of over RM110 million since the first Movement Control Order (MCO).

The industry had spent over RM4.5 million on Covid-related SOPs including sanitising and cleaning services.

About 30% of respondents have already laid off staff and another 60% said they will be forced to lay off more staff if gyms are not allowed to reopen within 30 days.

At least 73 gyms around the country have closed permanently and there is a high probability that many more have closed in the last three months since the survey was conducted.

The Malaysian Fitness Coalition said the industry is in a state of extreme distress as the MCO has forced many business owners to permanently close shops.

The coalition told The Malaysian Reserve (TMR) that it will take a long time to rebuild the industry, which has been closed for more than half a year, while many fitness talents have drifted off to do other things, given the prolonged uncertainty.

The coalition, which comprises private gym owners and operators throughout Malaysia, said there is no guarantee that they will be back in business, especially when most of them have invested their life’s savings.

Additionally, they noted that many operators were not able to benefit from the aid packages by the government and not everyone could pivot to online offerings.

“Even for those who did manage to put together online offerings, the returns are meagre given the continued costs and obligations we have to service, the biggest chunks being things like rent. Not all landlords are willing to provide concessions.

“The industry is in a dire state and we wish to reopen soonest,” TMR was told.

They also reiterated that the gym and fitness industry has high adherence to SOPs and therefore has very low on-site Covid-19 transmission rates.

Evolution Wellness senior MD Andrew Phillips said gym operators who are able to conduct online personal training and group fitness classes managed to generate some income, while others resort to renting out fitness equipment.

He said despite being able to operate online, there are many others who could not. One example is climbing gyms, where there is no way to climb virtually, neither is there equipment they can offer for rent.

Other types of fitness facilities like bodybuilding gyms and CrossFit boxes mainly utilise heavy equipment like squat racks and barbells, which are not easily portable.

“Notwithstanding, these revenue efforts equate only a fraction of our previous revenue line and often are nowhere near sufficient to cover our closure costs.

“The longer this sector remains closed, the greater the risks to lives and livelihoods as we are unable to generate significant income while continuing to service commitments such as rent, utilities and wages,” he told TMR.

The Playground co-founder Yen Kee Toh said not every gym and fitness centre has a readily available open space which they can use without incurring additional costs.

On the possibility of moving to an outdoor setup, she said it depends on the nature of the fitness offering.

“Conducting indoor fitness activities outside also brings about concerns regarding customers’ health and safety.

“Shifting to an outdoor setting would lead to the question whether we will need another set of SOPs,” she added.

Yen said members are used to enjoying amenities like air conditioning and shower facilities, which operators cannot provide when moving their operations outside.

Level Up Fitness director Kenny Sia, who owns 13 gyms throughout Malaysia, said it is not true that gyms and fitness centres in Phase 2 states could reopen.

He said for Sarawak, only towns outside the state capital could enter Phase 3 and for those areas, only gyms are allowed to open but not fitness studios offering services such as yoga and Zumba.

“Since the reopening, we have yet to see the usual faces return. If anything, there is still a net loss of members who quit. We are hoping this will change with time,” he said.

Meanwhile, Core Reactor PT Studio co-owner Leonard Leong said his gym studio in Miri, Sarawak, has reopened under Phase 2.

Since reopening, he has seen a slight increase in attendance day by day, although clients are still very cautious.

“We were doing quite well at the beginning of the year, up until the last lockdown in May,” he told TMR.

Echoing similar views, Warmonger Training Academy director Gavin Mattu said his gym in Miri is seeing slower pickup, although some members have returned.

On new subscriptions, he said there have been a few enquiries but certainly a far cry from pre-pandemic days.

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