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Coronavirus: Fitness industry crumbles as gyms shut down, livelihoods hit

NEW DELHI: The threat of coronavirus has left the fitness industry ailing and barely able to stand with smaller gyms on the verge of shutting down, larger chains contemplating huge losses and unemployment becoming a very real prospect for many thousands of trainers and support staff.

It has been barely a week since gyms across the country shut shop and the industry is already crumbling under the pressure of the COVID-19 outbreak, said insiders.

The pandemic that has led to a lockdown in many parts of the country has hit fitness centres big and small — whether neighbourhood gyms, with maybe a couple of treadmills and a cross trainer or two, or nationwide chains like Gold Gym and Cultfit that have at least 20 centres in one city alone.

Pravesh Gaur, who owns the Fast Fit chain of gyms in Delhi and Faridabad, has already sent some of his staff on unpaid leave.

With significant losses ahead, he said he had just no other option.

“We are looking at a loss of 20 to 30 per cent of annual sales as in March so we are providing lots of online offers for customers to generate revenue. We have no other option but to send staff on unpaid leave,” Gaur told PTI.

Each of his gyms employs nearly 20 people, including trainers, cleaning staff and receptionists.

While the trainers are still on board, he has had to let go of the rest of his employees.

Gym owners said their businesses are suffering losses, compelling them to lay off staff temporarily.

And those who have chosen to continue paying their staff despite the lockdown are now having second thoughts.

“I have to pay the gym rent as well as the trainers’ salaries. I thought I would have to close the gym for one week, so I thought I could manage. But I don’t think I can go on like this till March 31,” said Kamal Sharma, owner of Fit & Fab Fitness, Bangalore.

If the lockdown extends beyond that date, as it might to contain the spread of the disease that has affected more than 500 people and claimed 10 lives across India, the situation could quickly turn even more dire, they said.

To prevent their businesses from running completely dry, many have taken to providing online training sessions over WhatsApp, Skype, and FaceTime.

Like Cultfit, which is now imparting online training sessions for its members on its app, with trainers doing their best to instruct in as much detail as possible.

Mumbai’s JG’S Fitness Centre, which has got no new member registrations since the outbreak, has initiated online fitness consultations and training sessions to keep the money coming.

During these sessions, a mix of both live and pre-recorded classes, gym members are instructed on how to perform their workouts at home, with or without certain equipment.

“It is too early to come to a conclusion about the business being affected. But there are definitely no new enrolments due to the current situation,” said Shalini Bhargava, director at JG’S Fitness Centre.

A large section of her staff — administrative staff (two) and gym trainers (six) — have been asked to work from home, but those who can’t — housekeeping staff (four) — have been instructed to go on “paid leave,” she said.

“I do call the housekeeping staff once in two days to clean the gym. The administrative staff is working from home and gym trainers help me with online sessions as well.”

“All the staff are being paid as they do not belong to the upper-middle class and this money is necessary for their day to day existence. We would never want our staff to suffer,” she said.

However, not everyone is as fortunate as Bhargava’s employees.

Vikrant Sirohi, who works as a trainer at a Noida-based gym, said he will only be paid 15 days’ salary for March.

The closing of his gym has also impacted the extra income he would usually make from his personal training sessions.

“The lockdown will be affecting the salary as only half a month’s salary will be issued. It has also impacted my personal training sessions,” he said.

Afraid that the lockdown might continue beyond March 31, Sirohi, who also runs an HR startup on the side, said he might have to consider looking for other employment opportunities.

“I have a startup HR consultancy as well and gym training helps me support my personal expenses. For now, I have not joined any other jobs but I am considering other options as well,” he said.

The shutdown has not just affected those directly involved in the fitness business, but also those who freelance for the industry.

For instance, fitness photographer Varun Tyagi, who clicks athletes in gyms and fitness centres to make a living.

He said all his shoots scheduled between March 16-30 have been cancelled.

“It has just been four days, and it feels like this year is just not moving. About 95 per cent of my photoshoots are done inside gyms all over India and especially in Delhi-NCR. I am unable to shoot now,” Tyagi said.

Additionally, his entire team, comprising two assistants and an editor, have all been rendered jobless.

“We are all taking up editing work here and there, to make some money, but it is not enough,” he said.