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'A serious shot in the arm': Private sports facilities welcome move to allow more participants

'A serious shot in the arm': Private sports facilities welcome move to allow more participants

The Cage's futsal court at Kallang. (Photo: The Cage Facebook)

SINGAPORE: Private operators have welcomed a move to allow sport activities to proceed with up to 30 fully vaccinated people, with no additional testing requirements imposed.

Such sports must be carried out at supervised or operated sports facilities, such as those run by ActiveSG and approved private venues, the multi-ministry task force handling the COVID-19 pandemic announced on Wednesday (Feb 16).

Prevailing safe management measures will apply before and after the activity and during rest breaks, the task force said.

In addition, no additional testing requirements will be imposed as long as all participants are fully vaccinated. However, participants are encouraged to test themselves in advance. 

As private sports facilities wait for further details, those who spoke to CNA expressed relief following the various measures that have been imposed throughout the pandemic.

GROUP SIZE RESTRICTIONS A "DEAL-BREAKER"

Mr Rajesh Mulani, co-founder of The Cage, called the latest move a "serious shot in the arm" for the futsal facility.

"Group size restrictions for team sports is a complete deal-breaker. It is not a minor hiccup or an inconvenience. It just means that team sports can’t happen," said Mr Rajesh.

“In the last two years, we’ve had to resort to only hosting academies or only doing fitness work and things like that. So against that backdrop, this is a reboot, a serious shot in the arm for us.”

Mr Jimmy Beh, the director of ARK sports management, which runs four futsal venues, expressed relief.

"We have customers who want to play with more than ten participants ... For them to play for two hours throughout, that is not the norm. In the past before COVID-19, it was three to four teams," he noted.

Mr Tony Tan, business manager of sports company Coldcut, which owns floorball facility Red Quarters, said the increased limit will allow bigger groups of participants to spread the costs among themselves.

"These things do factor in, we'll definitely see an increase in bookings (with this new move) ... We have been getting a surge of enquiries," he added.

The same is happening at The Cage.

"Our phones have been ringing off the hook," said Mr Rajesh. "We told customers we can't take their bookings now because we don't know the protocols yet, but once we know the protocols, then we will announce accordingly and that's when we can start taking bookings."

Existing restrictions have put on a damper on a particular aspect of the weekend kickaround, one that Mr Rajesh hopes will return soon.

"A big part of amateur sport is the social element and we've not tasted that yet. Now we have bigger sizes and things like that, we can get a bit of that going," he explained.

AVOIDING THE "DARK DAYS"

Since November last year, The Cage, Red Quarters and The ARK Futsal have been part of a pilot scheme allowing businesses to host team sports involving up to 10 fully vaccinated individuals. All participants must produce a valid negative antigen rapid test result on-site before the activity.

Mr Rajesh said that this scheme had resulted in a "massive explosion" of interest.

"People were rushing back. But there were some inconveniences to customers because they could only come in a group of 10, no more," he explained.

"There was a lot of pent-up demand. People couldn't wait to get back and play and they didn't mind doing the ART tests," agreed Mr Beh.

But the need for on-site testing meant that facilities had to ramp up manpower - business costs that The Ark, with its fully automated futsal venues, had to contend with.

"We feel that it is important but that was not our original business model. We have had to adapt and change it," he explained.

At The Cage's Kallang facility, staff numbers almost doubled to meet the requirements of the pilot scheme.

"Since November, we've had to really up our manpower and deal with all the necessary steps and protocols that our guys would have had to do to manage accordingly," Mr Rajesh said.

"Not having to manage the whole self-testing protocol is going to be a big relief."

Mr Tan of Red Quarters expressed similar sentiments. The company had to double its manpower because of the pilot scheme. 

Even though staff members may no longer be required to supervise on-site testing of participants, Mr Tan said that the plans are to retain them to help in other areas like the enforcing of safe distancing rules.

They will also be deployed to disinfect the court and changing room facilities after every booking.

"We don't want to run afoul (of the rules). If private and public sport facility managers can just all do this together collectively, we are not going to revert to the dark days of two and five (per group)."

Source: CNA/mt(ac)

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