European Leaders Bring Virtual IHRSA Congress to Life

    How a group of European fitness leaders rolled up their sleeves to bring the IHRSA European Congress 2020 Virtual Edition to life. Join us in the spring of 2021.

    October 29, 2020 UPDATE: With countries across Europe going into another round of COVID-19 related lockdowns, IHRSA has made the difficult decision to postpone the upcoming IHRSA European Congress 2020: Virtual Edition to the spring of 2021. Registration and sponsorship opportunities for the event will remain open as we finalize the new date. Thank you for your patience.

    European fitness leaders weren’t about to let the pandemic stop them from holding the premiere annual event for health club executives and fitness professionals—even if things will be a little different this year.

    The IHRSA European Congress 2020 Virtual Edition will be held in spring 2021.

    Reimagining the IHRSA European Congress

    Ever since its debut in 2001, the annual IHRSA European Congress has gathered several hundred fitness leaders in an exciting European locale each October for three enlightening days of business learnings, insights, networking, and of course, socializing. This year’s event was to be the 20th anniversary of this uniquely European gathering.

    While the pandemic forced the association to postpone its planned 2020 Congress to Berlin in 2021, a group of dedicated fitness leaders asked IHRSA what could be done this year to help the industry come together.

    In response, IHRSA’s Alison Giannaras and Florian Cartoux established a European Congress Advisory group to assist the association in planning the structure and content for the program. In August, the group, led by the European directors of the IHRSA Board and members of the IHRSA European Advisory Council, began meeting weekly with the association staff to plan this year’s event.

    Presenting The IHRSA European Congress 2020 Virtual Edition!

    The result: the IHRSA European Congress 2020 Virtual Edition will take place on in the spring of 2021 and consist of three half days of programming with global club tours—complete with an interactive Q&A—on the third day. The theme of the event: Reimagine Tomorrow. Act Today.

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    IHRSA board member Alan Leach, CEO of West Wood Clubs in Dublin, stated emphatically, “As a group, we wanted to find a way to replicate that special IHRSA Congress experience with a virtual event.”

    No other virtual events in the industry are offering language translation services so it was important for everyone in the working group that IHRSA continue to offer Spanish, Portuguese, French, German, Italian, and Russian.

    IHRSA board member Anastasia Yusina, founder and CEO of FITSPACE Studios and Strata Fitness Holding in Moscow, agrees. “It was very important to us that IHRSA respond to the needs of the European marketplace especially now when club operators and industry suppliers need IHRSA the most.”

    IHRSA board nominee José Teixeira of Solinca Health & Fitness in Portugal notes that there is one aspect of the program that he can’t wait to experience. “I’m particularly excited about the club tours as there are many interesting clubs globally that quite frankly people do not have the ability to visit, but IHRSA can bring the clubs to them.”

    Henrik Gockel, founder and managing director of PRIME TIME fitness in Germany, who, along with Yusina, is a former recipient of IHRSA's European Club Leadership Award, commented that he is impressed by the thought and effort that has been put into the program and feels that "the return on investment (ROI), especially at only €99 for all three days, is a great value."

    Interest from Latin America, Asia, & Other Markets

    While the event will keep its European focus, historically it has also drawn interest from club operators from Latin America and as far away as Asia. IHRSA board member Monica Marques of Companhia Athletica in São Paulo, Brazil commented that the Portuguese language offerings will be a great interest to the Brazilian market, and is glad that the advisory group opted for afternoon start times so that club operators in the Americas would be able to easily join the event. The same is true for the Spanish-speaking markets as well.

    “It was very important to us that IHRSA respond to the needs of the European marketplace especially now when club operators and industry suppliers need IHRSA the most.”

    Anastasia Yusina, Founder & CEO

    FITSPACE Studios and Strata Fitness Holding - Moscow

    The virtual nature of the event, like the IHRSA Innovation Summit held in September, is likely to attract attendees from all over the world. After all, the “I” in IHRSA stands for International, a fact that the association is very proud of. IHRSA currently has members in 70 countries globally.

    IHRSA president and CEO Brent Darden is pleased to see the level of support from club operators and suppliers alike for IHRSA and the European Congress in particular.

    “Having been a speaker at the Congress several times in the past, I know firsthand how passionate people are about the event,” he says “It is great to see the participation of so many leaders and stakeholders in the development of this year’s program.”

    Additional details of the IHRSA European Congress 2020 Virtual Edition will be announced over the coming weeks. To register or learn more, please visit There you will find a highlight video of the 2019 IHRSA European Congress in Dublin–a reminder of great in-person gatherings gone by–but also of better days ahead. See you virtually in spring 2021!

    Author avatar

    Jay Ablondi

    Jay Ablondi previously served as IHRSA's Executive Vice President of Global Products—a position that oversaw print and digital publishing, including Club Business International, research, events, and information technology departments.