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06 Jul 2020

Gymbox says it's had threats of legal action over reopening plans, but no explanation as to why the government is keeping gyms closed
BY Tom Walker

Gymbox had planned to open its 11 sites, including its club in London's Covent Garden (pictured) without government permission on 4 July

Gymbox had planned to open its 11 sites, including its club in London's Covent Garden (pictured) without government permission on 4 July
photo: Gymbox

Boutique gym operator, Gymbox, faced threats of legal action over its bid to reopen on 4 July, with CEO, Marc Diaper deciding not to proceed as a result.

In late June, following the government's decision to open pubs before gyms, Gymbox CEO Diaper took to social media, questioning the government's motives.

He then followed up by declaring that all 11 Gymbox locations would open on 4 July, "unless the UK government explains why it should not".

Speaking to HCM today, Diaper said following communication from the government, he was advised by his lawyers, Mischon de Reya, that if he reopened as planned, the company – and anyone found at its gyms – could face fines and legal action.

Diaper said the government has not yet answered his question as to why it is keeping gyms closed, nor has it produced any evidence to support the decision.

"We challenged the government on why gyms were not allowed to open alongside pubs on 4 July – even though we are implementing some of the most thorough safety measures," Diaper said.

"If we hadn't got a response from the government, we were absolutely going to reopen. We had teams at our sites ready to go.

"We did get a response from the government and the threat of fines and prosecution for the business and those on the premises meant we couldn't open.

"At least it prompted a response.

"We just won't put our teams and members at risk of prosecution.

"While we'd like to comment further, Mischon De Reya, have advised us not to do so at this stage, due to the ongoing legal process," said Diaper.

"The good news is that it now looks as though things are starting to move behind the scenes, as government officials have visited gymsto review safety protocols," he said.

"Let's hope we then get the sensible decision to go ahead ASAP."

Gymbox had prepared a number of safety protocols ready for the "forced reopening" on 4 July – including temperature checks on arrival, reduced gym and class capacity to practice social distancing, doubling up of cleaning teams and PPE for staff.

Diaper says he finds the whole situation extremely frustrating: "At the moment we just don't know where we stand, which makes it very challenging.

"If the delay is for economic reasons, then the government must give us more support by extending the furlough scheme in its current format (without employer contributions). If it's for medical reasons, then please tell us what these reasons are, so we can do something about it.

"If we can't get either of these outcomes, we should be lobbying for financial support," he concluded.

The government has yet to confirm an opening date for the health and fitness sector, although on 3 July Prime Minister Boris Johnson suggested that reopenings could begin "in a couple of weeks".

In an interview with radio station LBC, Johnson said: "We're going to reopen gyms as soon as we can do it in a COVID-19-secure way and I think that the date for reopening gyms at the moment, if we can do it, is in just a couple of weeks’ time."

HCM understands intense work is going on behind the scenes between industry body ukactive, sector stakeholders, the government and health officials, to finalise the process for the reopening of the sector.

Johnson and his government have come under fierce criticism from the fitness industry for their "pubs before gyms" approach.

Last month, Tanni Grey-Thompson, chair of ukactive, sent an open letter to Johnson, 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.



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