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The survival of sports clubs in times of coronavirus

The Union of Catalan Sports Federations estimates that 50% of clubs will close if further measures are not taken

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18 June 2020 08:44 PM

by

Andrea Cuesta|Barcelona

Sports clubs are yet another one of the many kinds of businesses that have had to close due to the Covid-19 pandemic. What started as a 15-day lockdown evolved incrementally, extending business closures over three months and causing heightened economic distress for both the owners and workers of these clubs.

Julian Iglesias, the owner of Alfou Padel Club, has had to fire his two padel teachers. Without classes, memberships, or government subsidies, he isn't "optimistic about the future of the sector."

The world of sports has been severely impacted on a professional level with the biggest competitions now on standby and the postponed Olympic Games. On the other hand, small sports centers, gyms, and federations cannot count on having sufficient funds to survive the quarantine.

This is the reality of 42.5% of Spanish clubs that only have 1 to 5 workers according to the 2018 Annual Directory of Sports Statistics. The coronavirus crisis has hit them most cruelly. Without being able to open their doors, coupled with the drop in paying members but still having to cover the usual maintenance fees, their survival is far more complicated.

The president of the Union of Catalan Sports Federations (UFEC), Gerard Esteva, estimated in an interview that if during the 2008 crisis 23% of sports clubs closed, during this crisis "more than 50% will have to close" if measures are not taken as, in his opinion, this one is "bigger."

As an outdoor padel club, Alfou Padel Club, which is located in Llinars del Valles near Barcelona, needs regular maintenance to keep padel courts in a good state. This regular maintenance leaves the owner in a situation where he has to invest money without earning any back – what he thought would only last a month at most leaves his finances in a critical state each day that passes.

A 'Marshall Plan' for sport clubs

To prevent a bigger crisis, the UFEC has come up with a "Marshall Plan" with 26 different proposed measures to help the sports sector. Among these, they demand an investment of 25 million euros to ensure the survival of clubs and federations. 25 million euros that would come from the Catalan government and from "administrations' contingency funds".

Gerard Estava, the president, defends an increase in VAT on sports services to a 4%, a tax reduction on club membership fees, and an exemption for the federative permit. Three "basic demands" that the UFEC has backed for years.

The association has presented this project to all political parties and has made a law proposition that was presented to local administrations, the Catalan Government and the Spanish Sports Ministry to "continue the pressure administrations into implementing them".

Uncertainty and crisis

In the meantime, clubs and gyms are closed and therefore not offering their services, meaning they have had to stop collecting membership fees, their only regular income apart from non-member players and tournaments.

"Entities worry because the measures the government is sending are uncertain," says the sports councilor of Llinars del Valles, adding that "clubs can't keep up with them." The town hall is keeping in contact with club and gym owners to ease the changes they are going to have to put in place as "measures are really rigid."

Two months ago the Catalan government sent them guidelines where they recommended private classes, 1 on 1 matches – even though padel is a sport played 2 on 2 –, cleaning measures and new balls for each class or match. But these were only recommendations, leading to confusion and uncertainty amongst the different clubs in the area.

12 hours before the last part of Catalonia entered Phase 1, the padel and tennis industry received good news. The Spanish government approved allowing two-person matches and classes of up to ten people.

This is a "relief," says Julian. "These measures have been made taking into consideration the type of sport and the clubs." However, Alfou Padel club was lucky to be able to put this into effect sooner than others as only outdoor centers were able to benefit from the measure right away – indoor venues had to wait until they were in phase 2.

According to UFEC, "Sports will be the last sector able to return to normal," and it believes "normality will not be back until July or August." This estimate would leave sports clubs closed or under exceptional conditions for over six months – a "dramatic situation."

Julian isn't even sure this situation can be called normality, and he is scared of another closure if there are future Covid-19 outbreaks. "We have hardly gotten past this closure, another one without having been able to recover from these moths will be deadly to us," he concludes.

Government to allocate money to sports

On June 12, the Catalan government announced it would be allocating 3.5 million euros to sports clubs as part of a larger aid package. The grant intends to protect and promote sporting activities that are particularly important in Catalonia or socially or historically relevant.

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  • The Noguera Pallaresa river alongside some adventure sports company buildings (by Marta Lluvich)

  • The Noguera Pallaresa river alongside some adventure sports company buildings (by Marta Lluvich)

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