Ireland Active the representative body for over 350 leisure, health and fitness facilities has outlined a framework for safe operation for the sector as it looks towards re-opening. Measures included in the framework include 2m social distancing between both equipment and exercisers, safe swimming pool operations, increased hygiene, and regular cleaning practices as well as pre-booking to aid with contact tracing. Many of the safety protocols have been working successfully in other countries who have emerged safely from lockdown ahead of us. Swim Ireland and Ireland Active are working together on safe swimming protocols for a safe return to the water.

The industry body also believes that a coordinated re-opening of sport and fitness facilities in Phase 4 would assist in the health and wellbeing of the nation in the fight against COVID-19. Many facilities have swimming pools, halls and gyms under the same roof whilst the roadmap splits pools in phase 4 and gyms in phase 5. It would make sense operationally, and in reintegrating the workforce, to align the phases. Clarity is also being sought from government on ‘behind closed doors’ activities in Phase 3 which could also provide opportunities for some sport and fitness activities to reopen safely. The return to sport expert group is welcome and Ireland Active look forward to working with them for a safe re-opening of the sector.

The sector has been closed for over two months and whilst government supports have been welcome, in order to make the sector viable into the future, further measures such as the extension of the wage subsidy scheme, rates relief beyond 3 months, reduction in VAT to 0% and grant subsidies towards operating costs will be needed.  

Ireland Active are also keenly aware of the impact of the crisis in terms of physical and mental health of the absence of normal exercise and fitness routines. Communities rely on leisure, health and fitness facilities to reopen with over 1 million adults and children normally accessing leisure centres, gyms and pools each week.  We have seen swimming participation rates drop to 0% during the lockdown which will have a detrimental impact on those that wishing to exercise or learn to swim.

Ireland Active CEO, Conn McCluskey said: 

‘We are working with government to prepare for a safe return to sport and fitness and we will seek to gain clarity in the coming weeks as to the roadmap phasing. Our members make an enormous contribution to the health and wellbeing of the nation and contribute to getting over 1 million people active each week through swimming and exercise in pools and gyms. We know that better immune systems from increased exercise and fitness contributes to better outcomes from COVID-19, and our members will assist in the nation’s effort to combat the virus’