After almost four months of having their premises shuttered by the Covid-19 pandemic, operators of sports centres in Malaysia are now dusting their equipment in anticipation of groups returning to the courts.
The return of contact sports was one of the last to be announced as the country relaxed measures introduced as part of the movement control order (MCO), which kicked in on March 18.
Mohd Erwan Mazlan, who owns Frenzy Sports Arena in Shah Alam, Selangor, is grateful he can reopen the indoor venue which provides courts for badminton and futsal.
“It has been a long wait, I’m now able to generate some income. After so long, my family and I are finally ‘breathing’,” said the 36-year-old.
He added that it has only been a week since the announcement and he is unclear how things will play out. “But I’m hopeful. I’m slowly picking up the pieces and soldiering on,” he said.
Malaysia on July 15 finally lifted the ban on contact-sports training venues, allowing futsal academies and sports facilities, among others, to reopen.
The impact of the MCO on such venues nationwide has been devastating.
Many sport centres have either permanently closed or been bought over at bargain prices.
The reopening came almost four months after the Malaysian government imposed a partial lockdown, with Malaysians barred from stepping out of their homes unless it was absolutely necessary.
As a result, many economic activities in the country ground to a halt.
Within the first seven weeks of the MCO, the country reportedly recorded RM63 billion (S$20.6 billion) in losses, bleeding more than RM2 billion daily.
As the country reopened, Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin on July 13 said Malaysia could not afford another partial lockdown.
He warned the public against complacency as new clusters have been reported in recent weeks in different parts of the country after restrictions were first eased on May 4.
Mr Freddy Lee, who runs a futsal facility in Petaling Jaya, said that like many businesses, operators of sports facilities are struggling to stay afloat.
“I almost lost my house, everything, in my attempt to brave the Covid-19 storm. I tried very hard not to let go of any of my staff as I know everyone is struggling, but I had to use all my savings.
“Call it a bad business move but I can’t bear leaving some 20 of my staff in the ditch during this difficult time. (But) this also means that we can’t afford another lockdown. It will permanently bury us,” Mr Lee, 39.
He said he would need at least RM35,000 every month to cover salaries and rent.
“I will operate by enforcing a strict standard operating procedure (SOP).
“It’s my way of thanking the government (for allowing the segment to reopen) and my attempt to avoid a new cluster from emerging,” added Mr Lee.
Operators say that besides limiting their venues to only players, body temperature checks are required and visitors must download a contact-tracing app called MySejahtera.
Peak hours at such facilities are generally between 9pm and 11pm.
Depending on the location, these facilities charge between RM100 and RM140 per hour for the use of a court.
To date, the government has allocated RM45 billion to cushion the blow of the pandemic.
But this still did not prevent thousands of businesses from going into permanent closure, with unemployment in the country hitting 5.3 per cent, the highest since the 1980s.
Despite losing tens of thousands of ringgit during the MCO, Mr Erwan said he remains hopeful that people will return.
“The first few days of reopening, the responses were great as people were itching to get back to their normal sports routine with their friends, but seeing how serious the impact of the pandemic was, I made sure to follow the SOP.
“We don’t allow kids to enter our premises and no spectators are allowed as well, only players,” he added.
Stressing that owners like him cannot afford another lockdown, Mr Erwan said: “Look at how it’s impacted us all. But whatever it is, health is No. 1.
“I truly hope Malaysians stay disciplined. If you need to be quarantined, do so. Just like sports, it’s teamwork.”