It’s no secret that Canada’s fitness industry has been hit hard by COVID. But fitness professionals are not sitting back – they are hitting back and trying to survive.
Dino Camire, owner of One Family Fitness Centre in Winnipeg, believes fitness club owners and operators need to get over the anger and frustration of 2020 and change both public perception and the government response to the pandemic.
“During the first lockdown I felt betrayed and hopeless,” said Camire, who is also a competitive bodybuilder, powerlifter and coach at the national and international level. He has more than 20 years of experience as an athlete, mentor, and business owner. He operates a weekly podcast called Healthy Humans Radio and founded Body by Science Nutrition and Supplementation.
But his focus has turned to activism to help his industry.
“The parroting of ‘you must sacrifice for the greater good’ that I kept hearing from politicians led me to really push back in media and social media,” he continued.
In Manitoba, where the test positive rate rose to 11.6%, schools, chiropractic offices, massage therapy and even greenhouses were deemed essential services by the government, while fitness facilities were not.
Camire realized that the general public lacked information about the safety of clubs and the health benefits of fitness in general, and that government health administration officials shared those biases. The media reinforced negative perceptions despite evidence that demonstrated otherwise. Fitness clubs were branded as unsafe, despite strict cleaning, sanitizing and social distancing protocols. Closures became the norm and the fitness industry suffered.
Camire’s own club was shut down last March, reopened June 1 to 50% capacity, and closed again on November 11 after capacity was down to 25%. Club membership dropped from 270 to less than 50, echoing similar dire situations across the country.
“In all we were closed 14 of the last 38 weeks, at 50% for 23 and 25% for one,” he said. “That’s just not sustainable.”
“We know, without a doubt, that when we make the necessary safety interventions we are just as safe as any other public space, if not more safe,” he noted.
Camire realized that being a lone dissenting voice in the wilderness would not change things for the better. He consulted with other independent gym owners and, last spring, founded a coalition to present a consensus on proposals to the province and communicate the industry’s situation with one united voice. The coalition joined forces with the Fitness Industry Council of Canada and currently has more than 100 members in the province.
As founder and director of FIC Manitoba, Camire has steered the organization through the pandemic with bi-weekly meetings to inform its membership on current restrictions and support them with information and advice. It joined forces with the Manitoba Fitness Council and works with the Canadian Federation of Independent Business on further efforts to unite the industry and develop strategies going forward.
“By joining together, we can get the message across that we are working together,” he added. “In many provinces the community transmission rate is too high to reopen so we can’t advocate for reopening right now.”
“Instead, we are pushing for funding and support related to transitioning to online markets and accessing more of the public who may be new to exercise this way,” Camire explained.
Putting money into new software, marketing and promotions, and staff training would help the industry offer their services in new ways, and, Camire believes, transition to a post-COVID world with as few closures as possible.
He also sees direct government funding not only as an investment in the future health and wellbeing of Manitobans and Canadians, but as an investment in the businesses that support and nurture that health and wellbeing.
On the flip side, he says a collapse of the industry would cost billions in lost tax revenue, lost jobs, subsequent retraining and EI costs, bankruptcies and a reduction in the fitness of the population – leading to increased co-morbidities and more deaths from COVID.
“They need to work with us, not against us,” Camire said. “And it’s on our industry to take this time to engage the public on the benefits of exercise, because if we can get into their homes now, it’s likely we can get them into our facilities later.”
Kathryn is a journalist and features writer who has been published in major newspapers and magazines in Canada and the U.S. She keeps fit with daily online yoga and walks along the beach. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org