Tanni Grey-Thompson, Chair of ukactive, Humphrey Cobbold, CEO of Pure Gym and ukactive board member and Huw Edwards CEO of ukactive, all appeared on the UK's BBC prime time TV last night (24 June) to represent the gym sector and challenge the government's "pubs before gyms" decision which looks likely to delay reopening of the activity sector until mid-July at the earliest.
The appearance follows Grey-Thompson's open letter
to prime minister, Boris Johnson, yesterday, which called on him to justify his decision with science, allow the sector access to the chief medical officer and formally explain the reasons for not allowing reopening.
The challenge appears to be that the sector has still been classed as a ‘close proximity’ business – in spite of the detailed operating procedures which have been put in place.
In a doubleheader interview on the BBC’s 5.00 o'clock news programme, Grey-Thompson and Cobbold made the case for reopening, explaining how operating procedures will work. They also highlighted the economic impact of the sector, which employs 600,000 people, serves 10m members and turns over £7.7bn a year.
Savings to the health service of £3.3bn were also mentioned.
"We are just asking the government to think again," said Grey-Thompson. "The sector has been amazing in the way it's worked together. We've had really detailed plans in with the government since May 7th – in fact, the sector started looking at this and planning as we went into lockdown, so we are prepared."
"We want to reopen safely," she said, "we're very concerned that our contribution to the economy and to health and wellbeing seems to have been forgotten."
Grey-Thompson was asked if she felt something had been hidden or there was some kind of cover-up going on. She said: "We've been in more discussions and debates than I can count, and it feels as though we've just been pushed around in circles. It would be good to have some feedback to say what more the government wants the sector to do because we're prepared to do it."
Cobbold said: "We're bitterly disappointed – we've worked extremely hard to develop a series of safety protocols with medical experts in their fields, including Professor Greg Whyte, and we've worked – we thought – very closely with the government and their advisers in the DCMS to prepare those protocols.
"It was a big surprise that we weren't allowed to proceed yesterday, because up to that point we were given absolutely no indication that there were issues.”
Cobbold highlighted how Pure Gym's European clubs have been open for up to six weeks, using the same protocols as laid out in the ukactive guidelines that were presented to the DCMS on 7 May,.
He said: "I run a business which has 230 sites that are already open across Europe, so we've had had the opportunity to test the protocols we proposed putting in place in the UK.
"We've welcomed over a million people to our sites in Switzerland and Denmark in the last six weeks, we've been tested by the authorities 60 or 70 times and passed all those tests and as far as we're aware, we haven't had a single infection or transmission in those facilities.
"We're puzzling why this evidence – all of which has been provided to the government, didn't' even elicit a response from them, let alone lead to a good dialogue," he said, in a firm, but composed manner.
The two were challenged on gyms being a safe environment in terms of 'sweating, touching surfaces, heavy breathing and coming into contact with metal' Cobbold took this question and pushed back hard on all claims, explaining how safety protocols would eliminate these risks and how sweat does not transmit COVID-19.
He also explained how density of people in gyms will be managed to reduce risk, saying: "We can actually control the number of people who come in to the gym."
It's unfortunate that the news channels are lining up random scientists to speak against the gym sector, without having anyone from the sector to debate the points they're raising, with one – Dr Claire Taylor, a microbiologist from Edinburgh Napier University, making an unchallenged point on the programme that: "perspex screens may help, but they may end up covered in respiratory droplets and could end up being a potential site for contamination, “ something the gym sector has anticipated and covered in it’s new operating guidelines.
Huw Edwards appeared on the BBC's 6.00 o'clock news as part of a news segment that also featured swimmer, Adam Peaty. Peaty said "There has been a lack of clarity from the government and I don't feel the decision has been explained to any athlete or sports governing body."
Edwards said: “Everyone is desperate for a pint, but the reality is that this is a health crisis, and the best way to address a health crisis is by getting one of the key sectors that can combat COVID-19 and support the rehabilitation from COVID-19 up and running.”