Coronavirus: National sports leagues suspended, gyms reduce class sizes

Students during a class at Rei Academy on March 24, 2020. This class usually comprises six students, but was split into two classes of three for the purpose of social distancing.
Students during a class at Rei Academy on March 24, 2020. This class usually comprises six students, but was split into two classes of three for the purpose of social distancing.PHOTO: REI ACADEMY

Private sports academies and sports facility operators scrambled yesterday to map out adjustments that had to be made to their operations before stiffer new measures by the Ministry of Health (MOH) to combat the coronavirus pandemic kick in at midnight tomorrow.

MOH announced on Monday night that all sporting events, regardless of size, must be deferred or cancelled, with the measure taking effect until at least April 30.

The same rule applies to conferences, exhibitions, festivals, concerts and trade fairs. This meant the immediate suspension of national sports leagues, such as football's professional Singapore Premier League (SPL) and the Netball Super League, as well as training sessions for athletes involved.

National team training may proceed with training sessions limited to 10 people or fewer and with appropriate screening measures.

SPL club officials The Straits Times spoke to said their clubs would prepare individual training programmes for their players to follow remotely. Hougang United head coach Clement Teo said: "We will track their running times... and plan to use (mobile app) platforms to connect with them during this five-week period and monitor their progress."

The picture was less clear for privately run gyms, which grappled with the new requirements limiting gatherings outside of work and school to 10 persons or fewer.

A spokesman for True Fitness, which has eight branches islandwide, said it implemented several measures such as reducing the capacity at each location, marking out the floor and equipment to comply with physical distancing requirements, and limiting its small group training programme to fewer than 10 participants.

The MOH guidelines on limiting gatherings are also set to have a big impact on how gyms conduct their activities, with some, like boxing gym Legends Fight Sport, scrapping classes altogether.

Run by former national boxer Muhamad Ridhwan, Legends said yesterday it would shut down its regular class-based programmes and will offer personal coaching at a discounted rate instead.

Mr Lim Yao Xiang, 37, co-founder of Grityard, which is eight months old, was one of several gym operators concerned about rental fees. The former national water-polo player said: "The worst-case scenario is (gyms) having to close down like bars and entertainment outlets, then we have to see how long we can survive."

Private sports academies have also suspended operations.

ESPZEN, which runs football classes and leagues for children and adults, halted all its programmes indefinitely on Tuesday.

Its general manager Lhet Salomon said: "As service providers, we have to manage this situation the right way now. If we manage it poorly, once business resumes, we might end up with no customers."

Ms Radhika Radhakrishnan, chief financial officer of the F-17 Academy, said it would suspend training sessions for about 500 children enrolled in its programmes.

While the mother of three said she was supportive of the MOH measures for public activities, she added: "If an MRT cabin has more than 10 people, why can't football training continue? I am not convinced we have to stop."

Former Asian Games swimming champion Tao Li, who runs an eponymous swim club, said group classes for most of her 200 students have been cancelled, with only private one-on-one lessons continuing.

Recreational sports have also been disrupted. For ultimate frisbee player Victor Tan, the guidelines mean national tournament Gendermah 2020, set for this weekend, has been cancelled. He was already heartbroken on Tuesday when he learnt the world championships he was set to be a part of in the Netherlands in July got canned.

"But the general consensus is that the coronavirus pandemic is a severe issue and, obviously, we don't want to affect our friends or family just because of our desire to play," said the 30-year-old, who trains up to four times a week with his club at Turf City or Farrer Park.

  • Additional reporting by Arvinash Ravindran
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on March 26, 2020, with the headline 'National sports leagues suspended, gyms reduce class sizes'. Subscribe