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Battered by COVID-19, gym owners stare down extended closures

Costly gym equipment that is difficult to maintain will continue to go unused as sports venues remain shut. (Photo: Amjad Al-Tawil/Jordan News)
Costly gym equipment that is difficult to maintain will continue to go unused as sports venues remain shut. (Photo: Amjad Al-Tawil/Jordan News)
AMMAN — The government’s Tuesday announcement regarding the extension of gym and sports center closures will likely exacerbate financial and other losses, which many gym owners believe may already be irreversible.اضافة اعلان

Official figures from the Jordanian Olympic Committee list 45 sports federations, centers, and academies across the Kingdom that provide livelihood to around 20,000 athletes and a total of 37,000 employees. Of those 37,000, 40 percent work at sports centers, twenty-seven percent work at sports clubs, 16 percent are coaches or trainers, 8 percent work at academies, 7 percent are professional athletes, and 2 percent work at federations. Most of those employees were affected by the closures in one way or another.

 But the losses incurred were more than just financial.

“The pandemic has led to a drop in national athletes’ performance,” national taekwondo-jitsu coach, Mayzar Al-Qaisi, said. “Most clubs and centers have also endured massive financial losses amounting to more than JD7 million since the start of the pandemic.”

Gym owners have also been burdened with the mounting costs of maintaining equipment that has gone untouched for months on end. 

“Sports equipment must be used for at least two hours every day to prevent rust and calcification,” local gym owner, Firas Abu Amoud said.

“This profession, however, has become undesirable and no longer provides a stable source of income, which is why some trainers have started to abandon it in favor of work in other fields to make ends meet.”

Last October, the government issued a decision that allowed gym owners to borrow from banks under conditions that offered low interest rates and extended grace periods. But to many, this decision was a less-than-ideal solution.

“I could not make use of these mitigation programs because I have payment problems with one of the banks as the result of an JD8,000 loan that I took out to buy equipment. Today, I face imprisonment, but I have resorted to working as a taxi driver and selling homemade sweets to pay my monthly installment of JD180,” said Zarqa-based gym owner, Mohammad Khalifeh.

Workers in the sports sector told Jordan News that believe they are not far from the unemployment line, with many of their gyms at risk of permanent closure or sale to pay off debts.

“I borrowed JD1,500 from an SME fund under my wife’s name to replace the (gym’s) flooring but needed more money to renovate the sanitary facilities and had to sell the last of my wife’s gold, worth around JD700, hoping to compensate her with the value of subscriptions and private kickboxing classes,” Khalifeh said. “But today, I consider myself the victim of these irresponsible decisions and cannot pay my monthly installment of JD84 — my wife and I might go to prison.”

Even if their establishments were to open soon, gym owners will still find themselves face to face with difficult decisions they will have to make in hopes of restoring at least some of what they have lost.

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