The organisations behind the north’s public sports facilities have hit out at the “catastrophic blow” of continued closure until next month- claiming it could spell the end for some.
Bosses at sporting trusts claim the latest Scottish Government relaxation of lockdown “defies belief” and warn some of the country’s 2,000 leisure facilities will “inevitably” not make it through if the closure lasts much longer.
It follows the announcement pubs, restaurants and cinemas are in line to welcome back customers before indoor gyms and leisure centres.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday said her “heart breaks” for businesses that have not been allowed to reopen, but her national clinical director said the combination of hard surfaces, crowds, ventilation and being indoors added up to swimming pools and gyms staying closed.
While dates were set for indoor hospitality and tourist attractions such as museums and art galleries to reopen next week, the latest advice for the leisure industry is not to anticipate welcoming customers before July 31.
Sport Aberdeen is the city council’s arms-length organisation, running most of Aberdeen’s sport and leisure facilities.
The charity’s managing director Alistair Robertson branded the announcements “devastating”, adding: “In the wake of the worst public health crisis in a generation, denying the people of Scotland access to venues that benefit their physical and mental health and wellbeing, while allowing access to venues such as pubs and cinemas, defies belief.
“We firmly believe 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.
“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.”
Mr Robertson also accused the government of a “lack of understanding” of the lengths the industry has gone to in order to make venues safe.
Measures include reducing capacity at centres, adjusting layouts for physical distancing, spacing-out equipment and implementing stringent cleaning processes.
His frustrations are shared by Kathryn Evans, the chief executive of Moray Sports Centre, which opened in Elgin last year.
She said the complex had already made changes to try and be ready to open when given approval, but warned the lack of a timeline for indoor gyms to resume trading again was making it impossible to properly plan for when the treadmills might be turning again.
Ms Evans said: “We understand the caution level, but we’re seeing pubs reopening when physical distancing isn’t being completely complied with.
“The perception from the public could now be that the pub is a safer environment than a gym because they’ve been allowed to open first, while we are still waiting.
“We’re working very hard to try and undo that.
“We’ve made changes to restrict movements and we’re still not allowed to reopen. The waiting is the most frustrating thing.
“We haven’t even got a timeline for when we might be able to reopen, so we don’t know what the rules will be at that time, nor what will be asked of us then.”
High Life Highland – which runs leisure facilities in the north – had also been hopeful of a green light to reopen.
Chief executive Steve Walsh said: “Given the importance of physical and mental health and wellbeing as people across the Highlands move out of lockdown, my team and I had been hopeful that we’d have received some news from the first minister with regards to opening leisure centres and swimming pools.
“However, from the briefing it is clear these locations look unlikely to open before the end of the month.”
The Highland charity is introducing new booking systems to limit numbers at venues and will monitor staff temperatures.
First Minister Nicola Sturgeon yesterday told The P&J she had “not forgotten” about gyms and swimming pools and added that her “heart breaks” for businesses which have not reopened.
“This is not about an order of priority, it is about trying to work through this as rationally as we can, recognising the different risks associated not just with the different settings but with the different behaviours in those settings,” Ms Sturgeon said.
“This is devastating for everybody and my heart breaks for every business that isn’t open and doesn’t have a date to open.
“It is not because we don’t want gyms to open, but it is because we have to do this as carefully and rationally as we can and there will always be apparent anomalies.”
National Clinical Director Professor Jason Leitch said concerns around gyms were around the crowds of people exercising inside, as well as issues around ventilation and transmission of the virus on surfaces.