Words by Fitness Australia CEO Barrie Elvish.

The fitness sector is, by definition, interested in the physical and mental health of the Australian community, and despite social media “celebrities” extolling and promoting dubious weight loss images, the bottom line is that the vast majority of Australians go to the gym to feel good not look good.

Gym owners and their staff have a vested interest in keeping their facilities safe and hygienic, even more so in these COVID times. Likewise, gym members who want their facility to stay open also appreciate the importance of maintaining social distance, cleaning equipment, bringing their own towel and staying home if feeling unwell.

Fitness Australia has worked with all state governments and health departments to develop a series of COVID-Safe protocols to ensure the health and safety of patrons and these have been incredibly effective across Australia.

It is this joint commitment by owners, operators, staff and members that has resulted in not one COVID transmission in a South Australian gym since the arrival of the virus; that’s fact, not one transmission.

Since January, Fitness Australia member data shows there have been approximately 8 million visits across more than 300 South Australian facilities with not one transmission. This outstanding result has almost been mirrored Australia-wide where Fitness Australia data shows the rate of infection in a gym to be 0.00008%. A figure that is statistically insignificant and shows gyms are a safe environment to exercise.

So why has the fitness sector been singled out for closure now, without any consultation or collaboration?

Why is the hospitality sector still allowed to operate with some restrictions especially when the international evidence demonstrates a member of the public is five times more likely to contract the virus in a pub, club or restaurant venue than in a gym?

Why are cinemas, churches and theatres with the potential for aerosol exposure still able to open, hairdressers, nail salons and tattoo parlours where social distancing is  operationally impossible still able to open and private gatherings with up to 50 people still permitted.

This is especially frustrating when the fitness industry is one of the only sectors that can provide instantaneous contact information to health authorities and contact tracers for all gym visitors within an hour.

Looking after your mental and physical health is not entertainment, it is essential to our wellbeing so why are members being penalised from attending their local gym to look after their health while pubs and clubs can still serve them a beer?

People visit a pub, club or restaurant to stay and mingle with the propensity, as alcohol consumption increases, to ignore social distancing rules and indulge in more boisterous behaviours. In contrast, people attend a gym, complete their workout or class, and then leave.

Is the fitness sector once again paying the price for outdated and/or ignorant perceptions, guaranteed media comment or are we just a soft target?

I know from personal experience the importance of maintaining a regular exercise routine to build a sense of positive wellbeing and mitigate mental health issues. Many South Australian gym goers share this understanding.

Accordingly, and with an unblemished record of COVID safety, I fail to comprehend why gym members are now paying the price for failures in oversight elsewhere. As a proud ex-South Australian I hoped for better.