Cinema more important than fitness? Gym operators tired of hoping, want clear direction from govt

The government’s decision to allow cinemas to open in states observing Phase 1 of the National Recovery Plan came as a rude shock to gymnasium operators as they wondered if entertainment was more important than health and fitness.

The confusion arose after several operators met with representatives from the Youth and Sports Ministry last Friday. In that meeting, they were assured that sports facilities in the country would be opened soon. A similar discussion was held between ministry officials and operators in January.

In an online meeting with Twentywo13 this afternoon, several gymnasium operators vented their frustrations at not being able to open their facilities, as dining-in is now allowed, while cinemas would start opening tomorrow.

Often the first to be shuttered and the last to open, gymnasium operators had been severely impacted by the various lockdowns since March last year due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Goh Kae Vin, co-founder of Project Rock, a rock-climbing gymnasium in Penang, said operators were confused by the government’s direction.

“In the last meeting (held last Friday), we were told that gymnasiums would open very soon, and we were given a lot of assurances. Instead, what we saw yesterday was entertainment taking precedent over health and sports,” said Goh.

“Malaysia has among the highest obesity rates in the world so we don’t know how such a move (to open cinemas) would benefit Malaysians.”

Kenny Sia, founder and owner of Level Up Fitness said the goalposts seem to be shifting.

“It’s frustrating and we are still waiting,” Sia added.

“We want to survive. It’s not about making a profit. I, myself, am in debt, to the tune of half a million ringgit.

“My gymnasiums in Sarawak have been closed since April. It’s been five months. I need to know when I can reopen, or if I should just close down for good.”

Sia said if the closure was prolonged, more of his staff would leave.

In May, he was slapped with a RM10,000 compound for introducing an open-air gymnasium in Jalan Wan Alwi in Kuching.

“If the issue is ventilation, we can pivot and innovate (by taking it outdoors) but nothing is acceptable.”

“The Health Ministry has to decide if fitness is important. We are, after all, entering the endemic stage,” he added.

Vinod Varma, a pilot cum personal trainer, who opened VFitness in Puchong in late 2019, said the RM3,000 one-off payment was not a solution to the problem faced by operators.

“We need to convince people that it is safe to go to the gymnasium. Right now, the perception is that dining-in is okay, sitting in an air-conditioned room is okay, but hitting the gymnasium is wrong,” said Vinod.

“We don’t need the RM3,000, which many of us have not received, till today. We want to operate.”

Another operator, who declined to be named, confirmed that he was among those who had held talks with representatives from the Youth and Sports Ministry and that the ministry’s hands were tied.

“The standard operating procedures (SOPs) and regulations laid out by the ministry were very comprehensive. In fact, they were more wide-ranging compared to what the operators had suggested,” he said.

“They have been doing quite a lot, behind the scenes. Perhaps, where they lacked was in engaging with the stakeholders, to keep us informed of what they had been doing. Also, at the end of the day, they are not the decision-makers. It boils down to what the Health Ministry and the National Security Council decide.”

Yong Swee Tiong, co-founder of Vitruvio Gym Desa Parkcity, said: “When I heard about cinemas reopening, I couldn’t help but wonder; is it safer to go to the cinema than the gym?

“I know a lot of work is going on behind the scenes, but we need clearer timelines so that we can plan. Right now, we are tapping into our reserves,” Yong added.

Terrence Loh, general manager of F45 Training, said that in addition to paying rental, he had to also fork out money for the franchising fees. Meanwhile, Ryan Koh, founder and owner of several yoga studios in the Klang Valley, said online classes kept members engaged, but are no substitute for physical classes.

Dzianti Haroun Merican, founder and co-owner of Merican Muay Thai, revealed that the management had to vacate their premises in Mont Kiara as they were unable to pay the rent.

“We left our place last Friday, after being there for 11 years. If we are going to invest whatever little we have at our new location, we need to know when we can open our doors.

“In martial arts, it is difficult getting things done online. From our 400-odd students, only five took part in online classes,” added Dzianti.

“An indication as to when the health and sports sector can fully reopen will help us plan ahead.”

In the latest development, Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the Youth and Sports Minister Datuk Seri Ahmad Faizal Azumu’s request for gymnasiums to open is warranted and that “good news will be announced soon”.

Khairy added his ministry would jointly develop guidelines on ventilation for gymnasiums to adhere to, adding that his ministry was “working on it urgently”.

Here are Twentytwo13’s news highlights today.

NO MORE WALK-IN VACCINATIONS IN KLANG VALLEY FROM NEXT WEEK

Walk-ins for Covid-19 vaccination in the Klang Valley will stop from Sept 15.

Science, Technology and Innovation Minister Datuk Seri Dr Adham Baba said those in the Klang Valley who have not yet received their jabs, could do so at selected health clinics from Sept 16.

A total of 19,733 Covid-19 cases were reported today with the total number of infections standing at 1,900,467.

COVID-19 VACCINATIONS FOR TEENS KICK OFF IN SARAWAK

The Covid-19 immunisation programme for teenagers in the country kicked off in Sarawak today, targeting those aged 16 and 17.

Sarawak Chief Minister Datuk Patinggi Abang Johari Tun Openg said the state would first focus on 16 and 17-year-olds before proceeding to inoculate those aged 12 and 15 with comorbidities, and the rest, later.

Abang Johari said the state planned to ensure that 16 and 17-year-olds received both doses when schools reopen on Oct 3.

Health Minister Khairy Jamaluddin said the Covid-19 Vaccine Supply Access Guarantee Special Committee (JKJAV) had approved the commencement of adolescent vaccination. Next in line to receive are teenagers in Labuan and the Klang Valley.

ONG BENG HEE IS NEW HEAD COACH FOR U.S. SQUASH TEAM

Former world junior squash champion Ong Beng Hee has been appointed new head coach for the United States squash team.

The 41-year-old previously coached the Qatar national team.

The two-time Asian Games gold medallist and former world No. 7 retired in 2015 after being active in the sport for 17 years.