UCD simply is not doing enough to protect staff and gym users in the Student Centre. Doing anything at the moment is a risk, however, UCD gyms have a duty to minimise that risk for those who use it. Right now they are failing.

Like most gyms in Ireland, UCD Sport and Fitness (UCD SF) reopened in line with phase 3 of the Government’s framework following the lockdown caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Unlike many other gyms, however, who have employed staff to wipe-down or spray racks and machines between users, UCD has taken the same approach as most 3 star hotels; a self-service buffet. While asking the local gym sharks to fill their plates with more scrambled eggs themselves isn’t an unreasonable request, it is frankly another totally different challenge to get gym (ab)users to wipe down every set of dumbbells we touch! In my experience, the acolytes of most Temples of Iron have barely figured out ‘not curling in the squat rack’ and most, admittedly myself included, are only slowly learning which order the dumbbells go back onto the racks in. 

The low level of compliance with spraying down equipment was compounded by the fact that more than half of the sanitizer spray bottles were empty and there were as many people squatting with proper form as bins for the blue-paper we were expected to wipe our workout area with. A single bin that was, it would be a miracle if more than one person was squatting ass-to-grass in any gym at one time.

The small things matter in this tenuous stage of the reopening process, I never once saw the gym attendants wipe down the turnstiles for entering and exiting the gym, the showers in the males changing room were open as well, the same may have been true for the women’s changing facilities, I didn’t check!

UCD SF claims to be upholding a ‘no towel: no entry’ policy for the gyms and allowing a maximum of 50 people to be in any of the gyms at one time. As far as I could tell, while the Student Centre is equipped with an entrant counter at the door to the building, the gym receptionists never checked if anyone had a towel or was using theirs.

What have they done well? Not having the gym has possibly been the hardest part of lockdown for me, so merely opening back up is enough to start from a pretty positive place in my heart. UCD has removed a large number of machines, mainly cardio machines from the performance gym to allow gym users to stay further away from each other while repeatedly picking up and putting down weights or running on the spot. The Team Gym has been closed at this time as it’s being used to store the machines seeking asylum from the Performance Gym in order to leave space for social distancing. When followed, the machines were being sprayed down to eliminate or reduce the chance of transmission. Some gym-goers were wearing masks as well, however, they were few and far between and certainly would inhibit performance while being worn.

In line with government guidelines, UCD SF did indeed have spray bottles available on the gym floor to clean the machines after use but more needs to be done. Other gyms around the country have installed hand sanitiser stations on the gym floor, some have staff cleaning each machine after use. A large number of gyms are operating by-appointment, although this doesn’t seem necessary based on the limited attendance when I was in Belfield.

UCD Sport and Fitness need to do more, the R-number is rising again and gyms seem like an ideal place for the virus to spread. The potential damage to our education should UCD experience an outbreak as a result of the lack of compliance in the gym would be extremely unfortunate and needs to be avoided as we move out of lockdown. Working on the hope that the local gym-sharks will comply with guidelines which aren’t even available upon request from the reception is hopeful at best.

Hugh Dooley – “I go gym BTW”