Sport and exercise in Level 5: why are gyms fighting back?

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Muireann Duffy
With 9,795 positive cases of the virus confirmed here since October 12th and over 1,000 cases being consistently reported over the last seven days, Taoiseach Micheál Martin announced the Government's decision to implement the highest level of restrictions in their Living with Covid Plan for six weeks on Monday evening.

The new measures will come into effect from midnight tonight, forcing all non-essential retailers to close their doors, while bars and restaurants will only be permitted to serve takeaway food, or offer delivery services.

The restrictions surrounding sport and exercise have been a point of contention for many, with some arguing that sports should cease altogether for the six-week period, while others insist that exercise is essential in looking after people's mental health.

Under the new measures, all gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools are being told to close, yet gyms around the country have argued that they are an essential service and should remain open because of this.

A petition entitled "Move Gyms To Essential Services For The Mental & Physical Well-being Of The Irish People", started by Independent Gym Owners Ireland has amassed over 40,000 signatures at the time of publication, urging the Government to reconsider the decision forcing them to close.


However, one gym owner in Dublin has said he will not be closing his facility despite the restrictions, stating in an Instagram post: "Our plan is simple, we plan to stay open."

The post from Westside Gym in Blanchardstown adds: "The rising number of Covid-19 cases are NOT coming from gyms and we think it is very unfair that this has been overlooked."

Ireland Active, an association representing the leisure, health and fitness sector, says they are in contact with the Government, including Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers, asking them to reconsider the position regarding the closure of gyms and swimming pools.

The statement reads: "We wanted to assure you that we have been making every effort for our sector to continue to operate since the start of the pandemic and most recently across all levels of the Framework, in collaboration with Swim Ireland, making the case for gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools to remain open.

"We have highlighted the efforts that staff and facilities have made to ensure that they have been operating to the highest standards in relation to public health, and raising the health benefits for those participating from a physical and mental health point of view.

"This is of particular importance coming into the winter period when much of sport moves indoors. "

According to the Government's Living with Covid Plan, people must stay at home for all but essential trips, but they will be able to exercise within 5km of their home. In addition, no exercise or dance classes will be permitted while the restrictions are in place.

The guidance also states that no matches or training should take place, with the following exceptions:

  • Non-contact training for school aged children, outdoors, in pods of up to 15
  • Professional, elite, inter-county Gaelic games, horse and greyhound racing, behind closed doors

As such, all senior inter-county games are permitted to go ahead across the four codes, while the remaining SSE Airtricity League clashes and Ireland's upcoming Six Nations fixtures will also take place as scheduled.

The GAA has also confirmed that minor and U20 fixtures will cease while Level 5 restrictions remain in place.

As part of the ongoing Operation Navigation by Gardaí, businesses who fail to adhere to the new restrictions may have fines imposed and gardaí may order them to close the premises.

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