A north-east charity boss has challenged the Scottish Government to publish scientific evidence showing gyms and indoor sport centres need to remain closed after the latest blow for the dormant industry.
Furious chairman of Sport Aberdeen, Tony Dawson, has hit out at the “glaring disconnect between the need for people to maintain good levels of physical and mental health at this time” and government “determination to prevent them from accessing the gyms and leisure facilities”.
He has warned around half of all public gyms, swimming pools and indoor sports courts are at risk of going to the wall by the end of the year.
Last week, the first minister advised it could be September 14 before those facilities are allowed to reopen.
Nicola Sturgeon said opening sooner could risk the planned return of Scotland’s schools next week, but promised rules would be reviewed in three weeks time.
It is understood Sport Aberdeen, the council’s arms-length trust running the city’s leisure facilities, had heard the Scottish Government was to announce help for the industry on Friday.
When nothing came of that, Mr Dawson told The P&J: “I can only surmise that the Scottish Government either does not care about the physical and mental wellbeing of the people of Scotland, or does not know what it is doing.
“The steps taken across the gym and leisure industry to ensure that indoor facilities are safe, clean and ready to welcome people back are robust and well documented, and gyms have been safely operating across Europe for several weeks.
“I fail to see how the Scottish Government can believe that people are safer visiting pubs, where it has been evidenced that physical distancing guidelines are not followed for long, than they are visiting a gym, where cleanliness, physical distancing and contact tracing will be managed and implemented at the highest level.
“The First Minister has referenced clinical advice which has led to this further delay in reopening and I call upon her to share this advice to help the industry understand this inexplicable decision.”
Pubs and restaurants were allowed to reopen last month and already the first minster – seeing a worrying rise in the number of coronavirus cases – has been forced to urge the country’s young people to rethink how regularly they are going to restaurants.
Mr Dawson has also warned the continued closure is “economically catastrophic” for Scotland’s 2,000 public leisure facilities, as the ongoing closure puts them “on the brink of collapse”.
The leisure sector has been pushing the government to unveil further financial support to offset the effects of the enforced closure.
“Significantly reduced income and continued restrictions upon reopening means almost half of all public leisure facilities at risk of permanent closure by the end of the year, without financial support from the government,” Mr Dawson said.
“The devastating reality is that, without government intervention, public leisure in Scotland could be consigned to memory and the poorest in our society will be impacted the hardest.”
A Scottish Government spokesman reiterated it “cannot be confident” allowing indoor facilities to reopen wouldn’t risk a resurgence of the virus, hindering the reopening of schools or allowing people to stop shielding.
He added: “We know how difficult this situation is for those sectors and activities who are facing a further wait before they can resume and are acutely aware of the potential impact that will have on people’s livelihoods.
“We will continue to review the situation to see if earlier reopening is possible, with the intention to provide a further update in three weeks’ time.
“In collaboration with the sector, we have been developing robust guidance and protocols that will allow necessary preparation for facilities to provide confidence for members and staff to return safely – we hope to publish that shortly.
“We greatly appreciate the work by the sector to ensure the virus transmission rate can be kept as low as possible, and the continued patience of those working within it.”