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Tuesday, Sep 29, 2020

Hong Kong third wave: gyms, sports clubs, dance studios will be forced to close in three months without subsidies, fitness sector warns

Hong Kong third wave: gyms, sports clubs, dance studios will be forced to close in three months without subsidies, fitness sector warns

The government provided fitness centres with a HK$100,000 one-off subsidy in April, but sector says that was not enough to cover losses. 97 per cent of employers call for an immediate boost to the subsidies to compensate for losses after the centres’ forced closure from July

Fitness centre operators on Monday warned that three in four gyms, sports clubs and dance studios in Hong Kong could suffer financial collapse in three months, amid forced closures due to the Covid-19 pandemic, if the government did not provide the sector with a fresh round of subsidies.

The government’s anti-epidemic scheme provided fitness centres with a HK$100,000 (US$13,000) one-off subsidy in April, but sector representatives said that was not enough to cover operators’ losses, adding that many facilities had still not received the financial aid.

According to sector representatives, up to 97 per cent of employers said the government should immediately boost subsidies to compensate for their losses, following the fitness centres’ forced closure from mid-July amid the third wave of infections. The subsidies should be based on their rent, size and scale of operation, they told a press conference.

They said unlike larger chain gyms and fitness centres that might rely on membership fees, many smaller operators were suffering and needed more financial support.

Findings of a survey, conducted by the Hong Kong Fitness and Combat Sports Alliance from last month and released on Monday, found that among the 209 fitness centre owners polled, about 75 per cent – or 158 – expected to be able to operate for only three months, or shorter.

More than 71 per cent – or 150 owners – said landlords refused to reduce rents following weeks of forced closure.

Although registered coaches or trainers were also entitled to receive a subsidy of HK$7,500 provided by the government, sector representatives said more than 60 per cent of the 762 employees surveyed said they were unable to meet the application criteria as they were not registered to a list of associations or institutions.



Jason Tang, right, the owner of a Muay Thai gym, says he has suffered a ‘significant hit’ from the forced closures. With him is Eastern district councillor Lee Yue Shun, who has been assisting the fitness centre industry. Photo: Chan Ho-him



Jason Tang Chun-man, 36, owner of a Muay Thai boxing gym in Wong Chuk Hang, said his gym had already suffered “a significant hit financially” after fitness centres were first ordered to close for more than a month in March amid a surge of coronavirus cases.

He said his gym used to have a revenue of about HK$100,000 a month before the pandemic, with most of that used to pay the rent and staff members’ salaries. He said all expenditures had to be paid from personal savings, a situation made worse after his wife also recently lost her job.

“The third wave of infections is much more serious and fitness centres have stopped operating for about one month, but there is still no glimpse of hope of our reopening as there are still many cases recorded each day,” Tang said.

“The forced closure of the centres this time was basically a fatal hit. We hope they can be reopened soon, and can at least operate on a limited basis.”

Siu Yik-sum, owner of a dance studio in Mong Kok, said his centre used to generate a revenue of up to HK$250,000 a month before the pandemic but had now almost none. He said many of his staff worked on a freelance or part-time basis, meaning they could not apply for the government’s employment support subsidy scheme.

Day Yuen Man-chun, co-founder of a boxing gym and an award-winning boxer, said many boxers were also unable to practise with the closure of gyms, and had to resort to doing workouts at home.

He urged the government to form a committee to coordinate the needs within the sector to provide the appropriate help, including how boxers could continue their training.

In a reply to the Post, a Home Affairs Bureau spokeswoman did not say whether the government would consider offering the sector additional subsidies.

The government’s previous round of a HK$100,000 one-off subsidy for fitness centres was distributed to about 1,500 applicants by last week, she added.

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