Ireland Active is today calling 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.

As the national representative body for the sector, Ireland Active is asking for these measures to be introduced to ensure the survival of gyms, leisure centres and swimming pools around the country.

Prior to the Covid-19 pandemic, the industry catered for one million Irish people every week.

Ireland Active is proposing a number of incentives including an employee exercise scheme, which it says is modelled on the Cycle to Work and Travel TaxSaver schemes.

It said such a 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.

Ireland Active said the scheme would also provide 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.

The 10-point pre-Budget 2021 submission also features a proposal to expand the existing 'Stay and Spend Scheme’, due to come into effect at the start of next month, to include exercise activities in commercial sports facilities.

Other measures Ireland Active is calling 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.

Speaking at the announcement of Ireland Active's pre-Budget 2021 submission, Conn McCluskey, CEO of Ireland Active said that tax measures can be an effective way to stimulate growth in participation in sport and physical activity.

"One only has to look at the Cycle to Work Scheme for evidence of this. 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," he said.

"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," he said.