How India’s Health Clubs Convinced Lawmakers to Reopen Gyms

    The United Health & Fitness Federation brought pertinent IHRSA resources to Indian lawmakers in hopes of reopening health and fitness clubs. Now members can return and work on improving their overall health.

    For the first time in months, India's health and fitness clubs can reopen their doors to the public. With the approval of stakeholders and the Chief Minister of Maharashtra State Uddhav Thackeray, the more than 112 million people who call the region home will now be able to return to their gyms and safely exercise.

    This substantial victory comes after months—upwards of seven in some areas—of national lockdowns. So, how did health clubs in India make the case that their businesses were safe to reopen?

    A big help came from the United Health & Fitness Federation (UHFF), IHRSA’s Indian national federation partner. UHFF used IHRSA resources to back their claims that gyms could be part of the solution and operate safely with consistent efforts to persuade the government.

    The Road to Reopening

    Once UHFF had the opportunity to speak with government officials, it was clear that lawmakers were primarily concerned with:

    • The close proximity of members working out,
    • Perspiration, heavy breathing, and the humidity in an enclosed space,
    • Asymptomatic members entering the facility, and
    • How elderly members or those with comorbidities can exercise safely.

    With COVID-19 cases rising globally and governments enforcing national lockdowns—for the second time in some countries—club owners and operators knew they had to act fast to get facilities in India to open. Perhaps one of the most challenging battles to date, in lobbying to reopen health clubs, UHFF took every opportunity to catch the government’s attention.

    UHFF filed a change.org petition in support of reopening health and fitness clubs in Maharashtra State. The federation also gained the government’s support using Twitter campaigns, where they helped spread the message that health clubs could:

    • be part of the solution for contact tracing,
    • successfully implement and follow strict safety and cleaning protocols, and
    • easily communicate with and identify anyone that visits the facility at any time (members, staff, and the community).
    India Reopens Clubs Column Width Listing Image

    In those campaigns, UHFF included resources and data to show that clubs are not guilty of spreading COVID-19, and transmission in these facilities is, in fact, rare. Some of the IHRSA resources used to convince the Maharashtra government include:

    Guidelines to Reopen Indian Gyms

    According to UHFF, the most persuasive arguments for reopening appeared to lay in health and fitness clubs’ ability to:

    1. maintain a safe distance for members when exercising and
    2. communicating with members on dos and don’ts before, during, and after exercise.

    For every other region that closed and reopened health clubs, safety protocols and risk mitigation have been put in place to ensure that the clubs avoid any possible transmission of COVID-19.

    In the government’s decision to allow gyms to reopen, owners and operators throughout Maharashtra agree to abide by the following guidelines:

    • Complete sanitation of the facility twice each day,
    • Limited capacity,
    • Enforce members and staff to wear a mask in the facility unless performing a vigorous exercise,
    • Temperature and oximeter check for all members upon entry,
    • Impose that members and staff social distance at least six feet apart,
    • The club will not conduct any group classes until the government reverses this order,
    • Spacing out equipment, and more.

    Abhimanyu Sable, founder and chairman of ABS Fitness and Wellness Clubs in India, shared a full list of guidelines in this video on Facebook.

    The Maharashtra reopening guidelines are similar to previous measures established around the world.

    Collaboration is Key for the Future of the Fitness Industry

    IHRSA applauds UHFF’s persistence during this lengthy shutdown battle and their perseverance to continue the fight. This dispute was critical as the government allowed every other business and industry to operate during the pandemic—before fitness facilities.

    The controversy of reopening clubs in India is another example that shows how important it is to strengthen the industry’s political voice and form a relationship with local lawmakers.

    As the only trade association representing the global health and fitness industry, IHRSA strives to grow, promote, and protect the industry by providing resources and beneficial information. During the coronavirus pandemic, the collaboration between IHRSA and federation partners has been more crucial than ever. We must all continue to work together to:

    • advocate for the necessity of remaining physically active,
    • advance fitness facilities as valuable community resources for disease prevention and healthy living,
    • stop harmful legislation, and
    • fight for a seat at the table in any discussions that involve public health.

    Not sure how to get started in advocating for the industry, speaking with local officials, or propelling your health club’s voice? IHRSA has everything you need and more in the How to Run a Fitness Industry Alliance in Your State toolkit.

    Although this guide is aimed specifically at U.S. states, it consists of relevant and helpful information, talking points, data, statistics, and more. Every club operator or owner worldwide can use this toolkit when advocating, lobbying, or forming a relationship with the government.

    Author avatar

    Sami Smith

    Sami Smith is IHRSA's Communications and Public Relations Assistant. On a typical day, she delivers communications and creates content for IHRSA's advocacy efforts, while working to shape IHRSA and the fitness industry's public image on multiple platforms. Outside of the office, you can find her traveling to new areas, indulging in food, or participating in just about any sport.