Hyperinflation Devastates Lebanon, Turkey, Affiliate Owners Determined to Keep their Gyms Alive
Five years ago, Ramzi Kamareddine opened 9616 CrossFit in Lebanon, and within three years he had a flourishing 200-plus member gym. But the last two years, the country has been hit with hyperinflation, mostly due to political corruption, which has made running a business next to impossible, he explained.
Before the inflation crisis in Lebanon started, Kamareddine’s members paid the equivalent of USD$100 a month, he explained. Today, even after he raised his rates, their fees are worth just USD$15 a month, making it difficult to cover rent and electricity, which he has to pay for in US dollars, let alone adequately pay his coaches.
Further, raising his rates caused half his members to quit, as their salaries, which are paid in Lebanese liras, have not increased along with inflation. But had he not raised his rates, members would effectively be paying just USD $3 now, he explained.
“Every day (inflation) keeps getting up, getting up, getting up…We’re not even able to maintain our gym, or to fix anything in our gym. It’s really bad. And everything you have to buy, (you have to pay for it) in US dollars, while (members are) paying you in Lebanese liras, which is not enough to do nothing,” Kamareddine said, adding that if it weren’t for CrossFit LLC waiving his affiliation fee in recent years, he definitely would have had to drop his CrossFit affiliation.
A New Life in Dubai
Realizing his gym in Lebanon could in no way financially support him and his family, Kamareddine moved to Dubai last May to seek new financial opportunities, but he didn’t have the heart to close his gym in Lebanon. It continues to operate under the guidance of two other coaches.
“I’m sure some of my members think I just left them behind, but this is not what is happening. I love them all…They are really my family. But this is something I had to do. I just hope they know that,” he said.
Shortly after arriving in Dubai, Kamareddine reacquainted with an old friend, Rami Basheer. The two first found CrossFit together in Saudi Arabia in 2015 when they were working as civil engineers.
Turns out, Basheer’s affiliate in Turkey, CrossFit Bahçeşehir, has also been experiencing big problems due to inflation.
“Our membership as a value has decreased from $90 (in 2019) all the way to $25 or $30, where we are today,” said Basheer, who has chosen not to raise his rates and has been paying for many of the gym’s expenses out of his own pocket.
As a result, Basheer also left his struggling affiliate in Turkey in the hands of coaches he trusts, as he wasn’t able to support his family from that business. Today, he splits his time between Dubai and Qatar working as a civil engineer.
As the two friends reacquainted, they decided to start a new affiliate together in Dubai, and in December, 2021, they opened the doors at CrossFit Circle, which has grown quickly in just a few short weeks thanks to the 2021 Dubai CrossFit Championships, they said.
“It helped put us on the map,” Basheer explained of how the Dubai CrossFit Championships brought people into their facility, including an influx of new clients.
Basheer and Kamareddine both say they’re hopeful and excited about the future for CrossFit Circle, but their hearts continue to break for what’s happening back home.
Not in it for the Money
Though their gyms in Lebanon and Turkey are bleeding money, neither Basheer and Kamareddine can get themselves to close their doors on their devoted communities.
“It’s the members. We have been there for five years. We have built a beautiful family, a beautiful community…Everyone says this is the only place we come to so we can be happy, feel safe,” Kamareddine said.
“Turkish people are really hard. It’s because of life…they’re not that easy going. But when you come to our place you don’t see that…You see the humbleness with people. Everyday you go there and you see how they’re all friendly and are all together like a family…You see people really wanting to come every single day, being attached to the place. And I feel like, ‘I can’t stop this. I can’t shut it. I can’t increase prices. I can’t do anything.’ But at the same time, I can’t be there,” Basheer said.
He added: “What we’re doing, and what our (coaches in Turkey and Lebanon) are doing is out of pure passion and love (for) CrossFit.”