Squash players cause a racquet as Virgin quashes their courts
Clients were given less than a month's notice, which they consider a breach of contract
Sorry for you, squash players – we need your courts for boxing workouts, spinning and Pilates classes.
That’s essentially what Virgin Active has told the squash players among its members, and they’re understandably very worked up about it.
Seven VA clubs are affected. Some – Randburg, Tygervalley, Groenkloof and Morningside – are losing all their squash facilities, and three others – Roodepoort, Westville and La Lucia – are losing some of them.
“I overheard contractors talking about it at the gym,” said Hans Mieremet, who plays squash at the Tygervalley branch.
“When I approached management they denied it initially, but under pressure they admitted the courts would be closing at end of September.”
That didn’t happen, but on October 2 members received an e-mail announcing the squash courts would close for good on October 22.
“That’s not a month’s notice, which is a breach of contract,” Mieremet said.
“They told us to our faces that squash members are a minority, and if they have to disappoint 400 members in order to make way for ‘trends’ then so be it.
“We are the loyal members; a lot of us have been there since the Health and Racquet days.”
Another member, Coenraad Grunschloss, also took issue with the way VA communicated the squash quash.
“Virgin Active can’t even communicate to their clients that their squash courts are being closed down and handle the process in a professional manner.
“What are we to do with only a handful of days’ notice?
“They are taking away a sport with no regard for their loyal clients.”
It seems racquets are considered very unhip in fitness club circles these days.
Virgin Active SA managing director Ross Faragher Thomas told Cape Talk host Kieno Kammies: “We have never invested in squash courts; we’ve never built a club with squash courts, and we don’t consider it a growing exercise trend.
“We don’t like to take anything away from our members, but we are a high volume health club business, and space is a major constraint for us.”
Staying relevant and being part of global exercise trends was the “biggest thing”, Faragher Thomas said.
I must admit, I had to Google some of the things that those antiquated squash courts are making way for: Rumble Box studios (a modern take on a boxing workout), HEAT (High Energy Athletics Training) classes, Pilates and Revolution – a new form of spinning.
In a time of suspension yoga, squash – two people occupying a fairly large space – doesn’t work for the fitness club number crunchers anymore. Last month, hundreds of members of the David Lloyd private fitness club in Teesside, northeast England, signed a petition to protest against the club’s move to scrap its squash courts and put up a “Blaze” fitness studio in its place.
They accused the owners of favouring “short-term” fashions over traditional sports.
“Long after Flashdance or whatever has disappeared, people will still play squash,” one told a local newspaper.
Tygervalley VA members also got a “Save our squash courts” petition together – 90 members signed it and handed it to the regional director on Saturday, September 29.
“But the meeting was a complete waste of time because we could see that the decision was final and they were not going to listen to reason,” Mieremet said.
Carla White, head of VA’s strategic communications, said it was understandable that the club’s squash fraternity had not taken the news well, but tough decisions were unavoidable.
“If we look at the numbers at Tygervalley in particular, 18 players use one court in the course of a day versus 194 members participating in a group exercise class per studio per day.
“That’s 11 times more people participating in group exercise classes than playing squash.
“The courts take up space we could use to offer more variety to a greater number of members.”
Those squash members in affected clubs wanting to cancel their membership could do so without incurring any penalty, and they’d also be refunded for the month of October, White said.
Usually, the cancellation penalty is 30% of total subscriptions for the remaining term of the contract.
Unplacated, Mieremet said if space was the issue, the company should consider closing its pools.
“The pools are used by even fewer ‘feet per metre’ and cost a massive amount more to maintain than a squash court,” he fumed.
“This means more to us than they can imagine.”
Sadly, there’s nothing the affected members can do to force VA to keep the squash courts going and, legally, they are covered if they allow affected members to cancel without penalty.
The game is up.