The boss of a north-east sport body has warned the industry faces a “catastrophic financial blow” after the reopening of gyms was delayed.
Fitness and leisure facilities had been due to open their doors as part of the third phase of the Scottish Government’s route map out of lockdown.
However, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon announced on Wednesday their reopening would be pushed back until at least July 31, as part of a staggered easing of restrictions.
Business owners will only find out on July 30 whether they will be able to return the following day.
Alistair Robertson, the managing director of Sport Aberdeen – an arm’s-length organisation which operates sport and leisure venues in the city – said he was “devastated” by the delay.
He slammed the move to keep gyms shut while allowing premises such as pubs and restaurants to reopen from next week.
And he warned the decision could have significant financial consequences for businesses in the sector.
Mr Robertson said: “We are devastated at the Scottish Government’s decision to delay the opening of indoor gyms and leisure venues.
“In the wake of the worst public health crisis in a generation, denying the people of Scotland access to venues which benefit their physical and mental health and wellbeing, while allowing access to venues such as pubs and cinemas, defies belief.
“Sport Aberdeen, and the entire leisure industry, has worked incredibly hard to ensure that our venues are safe, clean and ready for customers. We are able to offer a safe fitness experience for our members by reducing capacity, adjusting venue layouts for physical distancing, spacing equipment and implementing stringent cleaning processes.
“We firmly believe that a person is at far lower risk of contracting Covid-19 while keeping fit safely in one of our venues than they would be when in, for example, a pub, where we have clearly seen from our neighbours in England that physical distancing is not observed for long.
“It would appear that the people of Scotland who value the benefits of using leisure venues for their physical and mental wellbeing are being punished due to a lack of government understanding of the safety measures in place across the industry.”
Keep up to date with the latest news with The Evening Express newsletter
Mr Robertson added: “This decision is also a catastrophic financial blow to the industry, particularly for those in the leisure trust sector, who were already facing significant financial difficulties. I am extremely concerned about the survival of the leisure trust sector across Scotland, where over 20,000 people and over 2,000 facilities are at risk.
“The delay in a decision on reopening for this industry will inevitably see trusts cease to operate, to the huge detriment of the communities they serve. Social value (the contribution to the long-term wellbeing and resilience of individuals, communities and society in general) generated by members of Community Leisure UK in Scotland reached over £354 million in 2019, and this figure is forecast to drop to £154 million if restrictions were not to be lifted until the end of 2020, which would have a significant negative impact on communities across Scotland.
“Aberdeen City Council has been a fantastic support to Sport Aberdeen, but this situation requires Government intervention. We join with our colleagues across the leisure trust sector to call on the Scottish Government to reconsider this decision, with a view to bringing forward the reopening of leisure, as had been originally intimated.”
Mike MacDonald, who owns AKR Fitness on South College Street, said the reopening of gyms would improve people’s mental and physical health.
He said: “The delay is really frustrating because we have everything in place to make it safe. We have a booking system which means we always know who has been on the premises. We can run with physical distancing, and we have been putting hand sanitisers in place.
“Opening pubs but keeping gyms closed is just bonkers. I could go for a pint with my customers, but I can’t have them in the gym which is a safer environment.
“Going to the gym is a big thing for mental health and socialising, and that has been impacted by lockdown.
“We will follow the rules and hopefully it will not be long until we can open in a safe and controlled way.”
In her daily briefing on Friday, Ms Sturgeon said: “We need to think about places that pose particular challenges, and gyms and swimming pools are in that category.
“We just need to be a bit careful for the next couple of weeks to make sure we understand the impact of the things we are doing.”
When asked about Mr Robertson’s comments, she said: “This isn’t about one set of priorities. We are trying to work our way through this as rationally as we can, recognising different settings and the behaviour within those.
“My heart breaks for every business that does not yet have a date for opening.”