If you’re a gym owner, the Netherlands is not the best place to live right now.
Unlike many American states and Canadian provinces, whose governments are either beginning to allow gyms to operate in some fashion or have laid out some vague plans as to when they might in the near future, the Netherlands has been crystal clear: Nothing until September 1. Along with sex clubs, cannabis coffee shops and saunas.
The big picture: On May 11, most non-essential businesses were allowed to re-open in the Netherlands, including businesses like hair salons and acupuncturists, explained Willem Hilberdink, the owner of UnScared CrossFit in Utrecht.
- “Then on June 1, businesses are allowed to have up to 30 people indoors in their facility. And on July 1, if they have the proper square footage, businesses are allowed up to 100 people in their facility. That means movie theatres, restaurants and pubs can open. But not gyms. We have to wait until September,” said Hilberdink, who closed his doors in the middle of March.
- “No disrespect to business owners in the marijuana or brothel scene, but it’s mind-boggling to put us in the same category as those sectors,” he said.
- “The argument they’re giving now is there’s a bigger chance the virus will spread in a poorly ventilated room when people are breathing hard.”
Needless to say, Hilberdink is angry and insulted. He has a well-ventilated 9,000 square foot facility with another 30,000 square foot of outdoor space.
- “There are people in supermarkets and parks by the hundreds, and we weren’t allowed to have 10 people do an outdoor class in 30,000 square feet…The sector by sector approach is just flawed. We should be able to show what we’re planning is safe and get approved to open,” he said.
A glimmer of hope: Frustrated, Hilberdink approached his City council last week. As a result, he has since received permission from the national government to run outdoor workouts in small groups, with sanitation stations, and where athletes are spaced a minimum of six feet apart.
- “But getting any kind of exception for indoors training (until September) is just a big fat no,” he said.
One big thing: Hilberdink and other Dutch affiliates have been fighting their local officials since the moment they closed their doors in March. It was even a battle for them to get approved to film Zoom classes and movement videos in their gyms with one or two people present.
One day in March, Hilberdink received a call from a fellow box owner in the area. He had just been shooting a movement video with one other coach in his gym when the City showed up and told him he needed to close his doors right then and there.
- “Five minutes later, I got another call from another gym owner. And then another one five minutes after that. Then I looked and plotted on the map and could see where they were heading. They were coming our way next,” he said.
Hilberdink took to social media and wrote a public post, and after three days he received an official document from the City saying it was OK for him to film videos for his online services in his gym.
Key takeaway: Hilberdink is adamant he hasn’t taken this pandemic lightly. He wasn’t opposed to closing his doors in March. He recognizes we’re in the middle of a public health crisis.
He is opposed to the “nonsensical” way his government is handling the re-opening of Holland’s economy. And most importantly, he’s scared about the message their actions are sending the public about the role of the coach and fitness facilities in our lives.
- “We’re still seen as a service about vanity. It’s setting the whole health and fitness movement behind,” he said.
- “Of course I’m frustrated from a financial aspect, and frustrated for my coaches, but the message the government is sending is that basically gyms are the least essential business in the country. It’s a dangerous message for the gym industry, and for public health in Holland.”
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