Gym owner Dirk van der Flier has had approximately 200 cancellations or membership freezes following the Government decision to introduce Covid-19 certs for attending gyms.
There has been a widespread opposition among gym-goers to mandatory vaccination certs which were introduced at short notice on December 7th.
The Leisure, Health and Fitness Association, which represents 370 facilities, is predicting a decline of up to 40 per cent new membership next month – which is traditionally the busiest month.
Mr van der Flier owns Gyms Plus which has premises in Ballsbridge, Rathfarnham and Swords in Dublin, Ashbourne in Co Meath, Cork city, Drogheda in Co Louth and Naas, Co Kildare.
“We have had people who have cancelled their membership. We have had people who have gone on freeze,” he said.
He said the cancellations have to be seen in the context of Gyms Plus having between 13,000 and 14,000 members across its network.
However, he stressed that it is early to get a definitive picture of how it will impact gyms.
“It’s hard to judge the impact as this is usually a very quiet week. It varies from place to place. I thought it would be a lot worse,” he said.
Mr van der Flier said the Covid pass came as a bit of a shock to some of his members when it was implemented at short notice on December 7th as not all members listen or see the news.
“It’s hard to know what the demographic is. The problem with fit people is that they think they are invincible anyway,” he said.
He also believes there is an attempt by outsiders to agitate and stir up gym members against the Covid certs.
“You should see the lengths of emails I get quoting this act and that one. They are written by somebody with a solicitor’s mind. People feel empowered to have a crack at this.”
‘No hard evidence’
A small gym owner and personal trainer from north Dublin has said he will not ask his clients for Covid-19 certificates.
The man, who asked not to be named as he fears it will affect his business, said the Covid passes have failed to stop the transmission of disease as were their original intention.
“There is no hard evidence to suggest they have mitigated the spread of Covid, but for some reason they have spread the Covid certs to gyms” he said.
"Leo Varadkar has said that it has encouraged more people to come forward to get vaccinated. It's been used more as a coercive tactic rather than it was originally supposed to be which is a safe place to dine in."
He stressed that Health Surveillance Protection Centre (HSPC) have recorded very few outbreaks in gyms.
He acknowledged that vaccines do help prevent serious illness and death, but that his members were healthy people who looked after their bodies.
“Working in this industry, I know that a disproportionate amount of the unvaccinated population would be gym users who would give an extra bit of care to their personal health. They might take a more holistic approach to their health.
“Despite what anybody says, the vaccines are a new medicine. It is understandable that some people are a little bit hesitant and they want to see how things go.”
He also says that a lot of young people, especially teenagers, use leisure facilities . “The younger you go down the age bracket, the more likely you are to find unvaccinated people.
“The only reason they are being introduced into gyms is to coerce people into getting vaccinated who are not vaccinated.”
Waterford gym goer Val Kearney said he does not support Covid-19 certs in gyms though he is vaccinated himself.
“I’ve been back to being a gym user since they reopened the most recent time around. As far as I’m aware there hasn’t been a Covid scare. All members have been fantastic, wiping down equipment before and after use. There’s been no issues from staff either, in terms of not wanting unvaccinated members on the premises,” he said.
Leisure, Health and Fitness Association chief executive Karl Dunne said many gym owners were in the "line of fire – there is a lot of pent-up anger".
Gardaí were called to two gyms where members refused to comply with the new Covid-19 regulations.
“We had one incident where a guy threw a pen at reception staff in anger,” he said.
Many gyms have been targeted on social media, he added, and bombarded with negative messages.
Several anti-vaccination gym goers contacted the Adrian (Kennedy) and Jeremy (Gibson) Opinions Matter podcast to voice their disapproval of the Covid-19 certs.
Biancha, who did not give her surname, said she was not anti-vaccination, but did not trust the RNA vaccines which are currently being administered.
She is doing antigen tests every two days and has tested negative on all occasions.
She suggested that unvaccinated people should be allowed separate days to go to the gym.
“All these people who aren’t allowed in because they are making a choice, that is discrimination,” she said.
“Some certain ethnic groups used to not be allowed in a pub. That’s discrimination. We are talking about principles here. I’m mentally very down not being able to go the gym.”