Heading off a free fall

On a high: A base jumper in action at the 12th International Gua Damai Base Jump in September last year held at Gua Damai Extreme Park during the recovery movement control order. — AZLINA ABDULLAH/The Star

PRIVATE extreme sports and leisure park operators have been struggling to stay afloat during the movement control order (MCO) imposed nationwide since the Covid-19 pandemic began last year.

The safety standard operating procedure (SOP) set out by the National Security Council (NSC) stipulated that these places were to cease operations temporarily during this period, unless the MCO was eased.

While the operators claim that there has been minimal government aid for this niche business, there seem to be light at the end of the tunnel as the government has recently announced that it will relax some of the SOP for those who are fully vaccinated.

In view of this, some of the operators hope that this means such individuals will be allowed to participate in the activities offered by extreme sports and leisure parks.

Wira Adventure consultant director Mustapha Al-Bakri Omar, who runs Gua Damai Extreme Park at Kampung Melayu Wira Damai in Batu Caves, Selangor, described how much the pandemic had affected his business.

“Throughout this year, we only opened for a month.

“Visitors too were dwindling, mainly because of the high number of cases in Selangor.

Rock climbing at Gua Damai.Rock climbing at Gua Damai.

“When we were operating then, rock climbing trails had to be maintained once a month.

“We do a thorough safety inspection every six months, which adds to our expenses,” he said.

Gua Damai Extreme Park primarily offers rock climbing activities besides a range of other outdoor activities such as trekking, caving, zip-lining and abseiling.

It is also a popular venue for an annual base jumping competition.

Indoor rock climbing gym Camp5 had zero reported Covid-19 transmission cases, says Peet. Pictures were taken when Camp5 was allowed to operate last year. — SAM THAM/The StarIndoor rock climbing gym Camp5 had zero reported Covid-19 transmission cases, says Peet. Pictures were taken when Camp5 was allowed to operate last year. — SAM THAM/The Star

However, when the MCO was introduced in March last year, Wira Adventure ceased the group hiking and caving packages.

“Rock climbing is a non-contact sport that involves the climber and belayer, who need not need come in close contact with each other,” said Mustapha, 62, who is an experienced climber and instructor.

A belayer is a person who controls the safety rope for a climber.

Determined to keep his business going, Mustapha hopes that the extreme park will be allowed to reopen when the nation moves into Phase Two of the National Recovery Plan (NRP).

“With more Malaysians vaccinated, I am hoping that the government will allow us to resume our business very soon.

“A lot of our regular climbers, visitors and employees are waiting for this,” he added.

The vaccination rate is one of the threshold indicators for the NRP to move into the next phase, along with Covid-19 transmission levels in the community and the public healthcare system’s capacity.

Mustapha said Selayang Municipal Council had given a rental waiver for the facilities at Gua Damai last year.

He said additional incentives would definitely help soften the financial impact of Covid-19 on the business.

“I am also hoping for the government to announce any form of moratorium for businesses like mine,” he said.

Another operator affected is indoor rock-climbing gym Camp5.

Camp5 facilities being fogged.Camp5 facilities being fogged.

Its director Jeremy Peet said the company had been unable to operate the business for many months.

“We have been unable to offer fitness activities to our members and provide work for the coaches, route setters and trainers for half the year.

“The margins of profit in our industry have long been surpassed by the amount of losses we have incurred and this follows last year’s net loss, where we suffered five months of closure.

“So, sustaining is all about survival and the measures we have put in place have focused primarily on spreading whatever cash reserve is left to bridge the gaps of the long periods of closure,” he said.

Located in 1Utama Shopping Centre in Petaling Jaya, Camp5 offers indoor rock climbing and bouldering.

Peet is hoping that the government can give more aid to this sector.

“Aside from the Social Security Organisation’s (Socso) rebates for employees who had lost income, we were not entitled to many of the government aid schemes because Camp5 had a majority of foreign shareholders.”

He highlighted that the company was founded in Malaysia, had more than 90% Malaysian workforce and its revenue was within Malaysia.

He said the company prided itself on being a Malaysian-born-and-raised brand.

Peet said the entire sports and fitness industry had not only been overlooked but was also under-valued.

“We are in an industry of providing fitness, wellness and mental well-being.

“Covid-19 is demonstrably weaker in the body of a healthy person,” he noted.

He added that the government could put measures in place to ensure the people could engage safely in sports.

Camp5 was operational briefly after the first and second MCO, enforcing strict SOP that included cancelling certain group programmes and limiting capacity by imposing mandatory reservations on visitors.

“As a result of these measures, Camp5 had zero reported Covid-19 transmission cases in our outlets,” said Peet.

“Based on the government’s reports on daily Covid-19 cases and clusters, the virus transmission in the fitness and sports industry has been marginal at most.

Yet this sector, which has been closed now for over two months under the first phase of the NRP, is still unable to operate when others can already do so, he said.

He urged the government to consider reopening this sector.

Growing acceptance of extreme sports

For sports parks managed by government agencies, such as the Putrajaya Challenge Park, maintenance work has been ongoing throughout the MCO period even though the parks are closed during Phase One of the NRP.

Putrajaya Corporation (PjC) facilities management division director Megat Ahmad Tarmizi Che Aini said this was to ensure the equipment, facilities, wall climbing tracks, mountain bike trails and skate parks continued to be in good condition when the park opened again.

“Maintenance is done by one of our contractors who does routine checks on the park.

“Faulty parts will be identified and fixed immediately to ensure the safety of visitors,” he said.

The Olympic Movement has recognised the importance of extreme sports, says Manjit.The Olympic Movement has recognised the importance of extreme sports, says Manjit.

Putrajaya Challenge Park offers various extreme sports activities in areas such as the Indoor Rock Wall Climbing Complex, Skate Park, Thrill Park and Mountain Bike Trails for adrenaline junkies.

The entire extreme sports arena has been affected by the closures brought on by the pandemic, with its athletes also having to hibernate until the Covid-19 situation improves.

Malaysia Extreme Sports Association (Mesa) secretary-general Datuk Manjit Singh Gill said, “Most local and national championships have been postponed because of the restrictions.

“The situation is not getting any better, what with the number of Covid-19 cases increasing.

“The athletes and the sport have to come to terms with the current situation as the safety of the athletes and people are paramount.”

Mesa has been actively promoting extreme sports such as skateboarding, aggressive inline skating and BMX stunts in Malaysia.

It has sent Malaysian athletes to many international championships and tournaments in the past years.

Manjit said that despite the current pandemic restriction on extreme sports, he believed that it would revive and grow over time.

“We have seen the Olympic movement recognising the importance of such sports, such as skateboarding and BMX, that have been included in its sporting events.

“This clearly shows that it also recognises the growth of such sports and the importance of incorporating these sports that the youth have an interest in.

“Unlike many years back, young athletes these days have more facilities than ever before,” he said.

Manjit noted that Youth and Sports Ministry and local councils were building sporting grounds as well as skate parks across the country.

“All these give more accessibility to the enthusiasts to hone their skills.

“There are also more qualified coaches now to teach young aspiring athletes,” he added.

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