Ireland Active has called on Government for tax relief measures, grants and a VAT rate reduction for the leisure, health and fitness sector as part of the key asks in their pre-Budget 2021 submission.

Speaking to the Sport for Business Daily Clodagh Kilmurray of Swan leisure said that many facilities only had reserves to bring them through three to six months and that the clock was running out for many.

Ireland Active believes it is critical for these measures to be implemented for the future viability of the industry, which – prior to the Covid-19 pandemic – catered for one million Irish people being active every week.

The 10-point pre-Budget 2021 submission features a proposal to expand the existing ‘Stay and Spend Scheme’ – due to come into effect on October 1st – to include exercise activities in commercial sports facilities.

The scheme would include spending of up to €625, with a tax credit of up to €125.

It would be like extending the beer and chips incentive to include burpees and chin-ups. Hardly an argument that many outside the hospitality sector could have cause to argue with.

This scheme would therefore not only be a substantial boost to the nation’s overall health and mental well-being, but it would also have the additional benefit of providing some much-needed security and cash flow certainty for the estimated 700 public and private commercial leisure, health & fitness facilities potentially eligible under the scheme.

They are also calling on Government to introduce an Employee Exercise Scheme, which is modelled on the hugely successful Cycle to Work and Travel TaxSaver schemes.

Ireland Active states that an Employee Exercise Scheme could help achieve long-term health benefits for employees nationwide, as well as promoting a healthy work/life balance through the increased participation in regular exercise.

Other measures Ireland Active is calling on Government for include a commercial rent relief scheme, the reduction of the sports facilities VAT rate to 5% for 2021, and a €5m swimming pool resilience fund for 2021, to take account of the ongoing challenges and associated costs for pools remaining open during the pandemic.

“Tax measures can be an effective way to stimulate growth in participation in sport and physical activity and one only has to look at the Cycle to Work Scheme for evidence of this,” said Conn McCluskey, CEO of Ireland Active.

“We believe a similar scheme, aimed at leisure and gym membership and exercise programmes, would help to stimulate spending for the sector and sustain businesses.”

“We are calling on Government to support a sector that gets over 1 million people active each week in Ireland. The average income loss for the sector this year is 65%, with most facilities having no income during the period from March to August.”

“Our budget proposals will help deliver on the actions contained in the National Sports Policy, while also helping people recover both mentally and physically from the effects of Covid-19 – which is particularly needed as we move into the autumn and winter period and most physical activity moves indoors.”