Fury at ‘dishonest’ media response from David Lloyd Clubs
By ALAN THATCHER, Squash Mad Editor
Squash players all over the UK are up in arms at plans by David Lloyd Clubs to close the majority of their squash courts to make way for a new fitness circuit called Blaze.
The gym and rackets-sports chain were last night accused of lying to their members after being challenged to explain the reason for using squash courts to deliver this new activity. Players are furious that squash, rated the healthiest sport of all, is being sacrificed to make way for an untried programme that David Lloyd clearly hope will turn into the latest money-spinning fitness fad.
Several thousand members are understood to be affected by this new directive. Many have written to Squash Mad to complain. When I put their arguments to David Lloyd via email, my request for a media statement went unanswered.
When I posed the question on social media platform Twitter, an anonymous David Lloyd spokesperson responded by saying: “If our members wish to discuss why we will be introducing a Blaze studio to their Club in place of the courts, members should speak with the General Manager there as it was ultimately their decision to make this change.”
In response, I Tweeted: “Please clarify your remarks. You are expecting us to believe that various General Managers, at a number of locations, all decided independently to kill squash and use the courts for these untried Blaze circuits.” No reply was forthcoming.
Their claim was quickly dismissed by members of the David Lloyd Club in Gidea Park, Essex. Laura Northeast answered: “Just spoken to management at DL Gidea Park showing this tweet and they said no, the decision came from above. Your response David Lloyd is categorically untrue.”
Another, calling himself Lofty Perch, added: “We spoke to the general manager at Gidea Park on Saturday and he said: ‘It has nothing to do with me. This is all coming from head office.’ Maybe you guys should get your stories aligned.”
Squash Mad correspondent James Roberts reported on the situation back in February. James, founder of the campaign to bring squash back to Corby, reported on the loss of two courts at David Lloyd Milton Keynes, despite the first team winning the Bedfordshire County League champions.
He wrote then: “At Milton Keynes, they are losing two out of their four courts, and yet Mike Firth, team Captain, describes their squash section as ‘thriving’, with the team sitting proudly on top of the Bedfordshire League.
“This is also reportedly taking place after no or minimal consultation and very little notice. What will now happen to established squash clubs and teams based at affected David Lloyd centres is anybody’s guess, but Mike at Milton Keynes asserts that the activity there is no longer viable with a 50% reduction in court capacity and players will be forced to leave to play elsewhere.”
In Edinburgh, courts have already disappeared. Jim Harvey Tweeted: “Already gone down that route in DL Edinburgh. Down to a single squash court and a blaze studio. Racket members marginalised.”
David Lloyd clubs can expect to receive plenty more questions from disgruntled squash members fighting to keep their courts open.
Laura Northeast, a lecturer in sports science at the Writtle University College in Chelmsford, Essex, is co-ordinating a campaign to keep the courts open at Gidea Park.
Laura, who has visited Egypt to assist world No.13 Mohamed Abouelghar with his pre-season training, said: “Members at the DL are devastated about the loss of the courts. Our head coach Niall Engerer has worked tremendously hard to build up an inclusive programme of tournaments, group sessions and league matches for juniors and seniors of all levels. This will be destroyed based on cloak and dagger decision making – with no consultation with members.”
Engerer’s successful programmes have increased squash membership at David Lloyd Gidea Park from around 70 players to more than 200 over the past year or so.
Squash members in Gidea Park have launched an online petition to try to persuade the David Lloyd management to think again and change their mind about closing the courts.
I signed the petition and, alongside many other posts, I sent the following message to David Lloyd Clubs:
I understand the basic logic about making more cash per square foot of court space, but your finance directors at David Lloyd are missing some wider points:
1: Squash players stay loyal to their sport for much longer than gym members.
2: Squash players like to make their club their social hub. Look after them properly and they will reward you in turn with a bigger spend over the bar.
3: There are further revenue opportunities with a club shop selling rackets, shoes and clothing, and providing restringing of rackets.
4: Partner fully with squash and we will provide you with coaches and managers who will grow the business.
5: Squash is consistently rated one of the healthiest sports in the world. A recent health survey confirmed this. In an era when childhood obesity, and mid-life health issues, are likely to cost the NHS millions of pounds, you could be partnering with your local communities to promote squash and racketball sessions as a major boost to health and wellbeing.
6: Your dismissive and dishonest behaviour is grossly offensive and insulting to the sport of squash.
7: I have requested a statement from the David Lloyd media department. So far the only response has been a message on Twitter claiming that the decision has been taken by your Regional Managers. Others posting here claim this is blatantly untrue.
To recap, I am awaiting responses from Sports Minister Tracey Crouch and from David Lloyd management. But it was nice to receive messages of support from leading international players Nick Matthew, Daryl Selby, women’s world champion Raneem El Welily, her husband Tarek Momen, Mohamed Abouelghar and numerous squash enthusiasts across the planet.
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