Madrid embraces the model of privatized gyms that exclude team sports courts to be more profitable

In the year 2050, whoever is at the head of the City Council – after the 2047 elections – will receive at once a dozen municipal sports centres for management, the result of the wave of concessions for a quarter of a century that is coming in the capital. Until that time comes, private companies will be in charge of managing them and will receive their profits, according to the model planned by the mayor of Madrid, José Luis Martínez Almeida, for the new municipal sports centers in the city in this legislature: 14 endowments with swimming pool and gymnasium that will be awarded in contracts of 25 to 40 years to private companies.

The sports centre of Paseo de la Dirección will have a swimming pool, will have no track and will be privatized for 25 years.

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The area of Works is working hard to move forward all the projects and that they are shielded before the elections of 2023. At the moment it has taken out to public information the feasibility studies of six sports centers in Las Tablas, Barajas, Montecarmelo, Sanchinarro, Valdebebas and Tetuán. All are exactly the same in its approach: 2,655.48 meters of surface in which are distributed a swimming pool for adults, glass learning (ground floor and basement) and four rooms for spinning, yoga, machines and dance.

The projects of each of the six centers seem a short cut in its basic characteristics if it were not for the plans of the parking spaces that accompany the studies, ranging from 13 in Sanchinarro to 125 in Barajas, “depending on the size of the plot available,” explains the City Council of Madrid. All also resemble those built and managed by leading private companies in the sector as Go Fit or Forus in other parts of the national geography.

The City Council justifies its decision by explaining that the six identical projects “obey a minimum program of needs, once the tender is launched, the contestants may expand the provision and the sports offer as much as the buildable area of each plot allows, as well as modify the architectural configuration of the proposals,” say sources in the area.

In the initial designs of the new sports centers the City Council dispenses with the tracks for team sports, usual in other types of facilities and that in some cases even came to be planned during the stage of Carmena as mayor, as in the Mistral street (Barajas) that was going to have a summer pool, sports courts and even an indoor skating rink, as denounced by Más Madrid. Now the surplus space will be transformed into a parking lot larger than the municipal sports center itself.

Something similar happened in the Cuatro Caminos sports center, whose works were already tendered and about to be awarded when Almeida’s team took office and annulled the public tender. Instead of the court for basketball, indoor football or handball has projected more machine rooms, a plant less and a concession to the company that builds 40 years of exploitation, the same term as for the sports centers of Las Rosas (San Blas-Canillejas) and Ricardo Damas (Arganzuela), whose end of works is scheduled for 2023.

In these cases, the concessionary companies will be responsible for drawing up the final project, processing the licences and carrying out the work within 18 months of final approval. In return, they will have to pay a fee of 30,000 euros per year to the City Council for its operation (20,000 in the case of Las Rosas). In addition to the minimum required, may propose during the bidding process the construction of other features and even “parking in basements,” they emphasize from the consistory. They also clarify in the area of Works that “will go hand in hand with the districts, which are those who establish the sports program of these centers and will be present throughout the award process.

No indoor basketball court in Tetuán

In Paseo de la Dirección (Tetuán), the plot destined for the new sports center was going to have three courts for team sports when the first design for the facility was conceived, almost two decades ago. Now it will have, like all the others before it, a four-section gymnasium.wings with swimming pool and parking. Bad news for basketball teams in the neighborhood, which will continue to have to train outdoors, whether it is cold, rainy or have to endure 40 º C as in recent days. “A private company is not interested in having a multi-sports court where clubs train” denounced Antonio Granero, of the Cuatro Caminos-Tetuán Neighbourhood Association, when the project was announced.

Economic exploitation is the key to this model, say the neighbors: the municipal sports centers -whether privatized or not- have to reserve a good number of hours on their courts for clubs, which pay a season ticket at reduced prices and thus can train all year round. “Leaving space for team sports, the concessionaire would earn 10% of what it will get with the new project, without a court and space for more gymnasium,” explains Antonio. Neighbors and political parties argued to change the project. Más Madrid stressed that “the sports center is understood as a backbone of community life in Bellas Vistas, capable of consolidating itself as a community center that brings together, through sport and culture, the needs of recreation and coexistence. The Works Department ignored their requests and has approved the construction project without a track.

From the City Council refer to a survey of sports habits of the Consejo Superior de Deportes to justify their choice for gyms in their feasibility studies: 22.8% of the Spanish population claims to do it weekly. This same survey states that 10.5% practice weekly sports that would need courts for team sports such as basketball, indoor football, handball or volleyball. “We opt for a solution that meets the interests of use by the community, with adequate economic and financial viability for the operation and maintenance of these sports facilities,” reads the municipal study.

“They are car parks with gymnasiums”.

“It is only about building gyms to ensure a profitability of the company that guarantees the speed of its construction and inauguration, to the detriment of neighborhood demands and municipal needs,” denounced a few days ago the spokeswoman for Más Madrid, Rita Maestre. “They suppress swimming pools, collective indoor courts, skating rinks or pavilions of the projects agreed with the neighbors and replace them with rooms for weight training, fitness or spinning, which will be used for the construction of the new facilities.e report more economic benefits for the concessionary companies,” he added during a visit to the site where the municipal sports center of Sanchinarro will be located. There he also denounced that, in haste, the City Council had published the plans of its feasibility study in a street of Pinto instead of the capital Madrid.

Maestre believes that the proposed facilities are not “at all” sports centers “that claim and expect the neighbors and neighbors, but car parks with gym”, which reveal “the commitment of the PP for a policy that only obeys partisan interests, to deliver the land and the management of the center to private hands”. His party colleague Miguel Montejo also believes that this sports policy is “a fraud to the citizenship in every rule, and that they have 600 million euros of surplus available, without any allocation, having been temporarily released from the spending rule”.

From the area of Works respond to the opposition spokeswoman: “We respect that there are those who do not like the concession model, but we believe that just as direct management is good in some cases, indirect management is also good in others,” they reply. “Public money has to be spent in the most efficient way. For the citizen, that the management is direct or indirect is not significant, since the prices for the public are the same,” added the same sources.

While the debate continues, the tenders are advancing: in addition to the nine sports centres mentioned above, the Works Department is now preparing those for the sports centres in Pacífico (Retiro District), Cuatro Vientos (Latina District), Parque de Ingenieros (Villaverde District) and Cañaveral (Vicálvaro District). At the moment it is not known the term of private concession for these endowments, which the City Council has already advanced that they will follow the same model as the previous ones.

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