It is always amazing how little things can make a big difference. You would think that with all the talk about problems with obesity and people being too sedentary, that all levels of government would be taking steps to encourage people to exercise. At very least you would not expect them to put up barriers.

Sadly you would be wrong. The City Of Stirling (in West Australia) wants to charge personal trainers up to $50 an hour to use parks and reserves. Two bizarre excuses were offered. One was that   the council must charge trainers because of the wear and tear on parks. The other was that parks are not provided for businesses to get a “commercial gain”.

What a load of rubbish!

Parks are actually designed to be used. They are not ornamental. The whole purpose of having public parks is so that people can use them. Large grassed areas are ideal for running, throwing a ball or doing all forms of healthy outdoor activity. The “wear and tear” line reminds me of the lady in a Fawlty Towers episode who had difficulty hearing but when asked about her hearing aid said she did not use it because it ran the batteries down.

We have parks but we do not use them because it wears the grass down! Even if there is some truth to this, all levels of government are encouraging people to be more active and public parks are provided for…public use. Every year we pay rates to councils and basically all they do is collect the rubbish once a week and water the parks. If maintaining public parks in the face of public usage is too hard for the poor dears then they need a reality check.

The second excuse is completely self-serving. Most trainers are small business people. Most do not charge huge amounts of money. It is also a fact that the presence of a trainer will encourage people to exercise and push themselves a little bit. Exercising in a group is popular as it provides a social benefit as well as the fitness side. The fact that the trainer provides a service to those people exercising does not mean they are getting a “commercial gain” from the park, they are earning a living by providing a service to people who live in the area and pay rates to the council to maintain a park for public use.

One trainer, is not wearing down the grass, it is the collective use of all the people exercising. Presumably this council hopes that its charge will discourage trainers. In turn that means it hopes ratepayers will not exercise in the park and not wear down the grass. One can assume it hopes they will stay inside watching TV instead.

Rather than discourage trainers, if governments were serious about health they would subsidize trainers at every park so that more people would do regular exercise. Some of this money could be diverted from funding of elite athletes. Some could come from the health budget.

With a healthier population, there might be just enough savings from the health (disease) budget to pay for grounds maintenance.