DUBAI // Fitness instructors are being ordered to register with the authorities by the end of the year and must have accredited qualifications to do so. The move is part of a push by Dubai Sports Authority to regulate coaches and gyms.
Many freelance trainers operate without insurance, and clients have no way of knowing how qualified they are, according to some coaches.
They say uncertified trainers risk leaving clients injured, as well as out of pocket for sessions.
From the end of the year, all instructors will have to be Registered Exercise Professionals. They must meet specific standards, hold recognised qualifications and follow a code of ethics.
Residents will be able to check online to see if a trainer is registered.
The regulations are long overdue, said Corey Oliver, owner of Original Fitness Company.
"It is a worthwhile process because all trainers will be insured," he said. "There is a whole can of worms that needs to be opened.
Trainers without identification will be issued a warning, with a fine for a second offence.
A third breach will result in deportation.
"It will definitely stir things up a lot," said Mr Oliver, who set up his company in 1996. "It's getting out of hand."
"For the people doing it legally, they have to pay all these bills each year to get insurance. But people just come in and promote themselves, act like a company, branding like a company, but not incorporated or insured as a company.
"We pay about Dh80,000 in Dubai and Abu Dhabi a year on licences and insurance, then there are people taking shortcuts by getting a trade licence for Dh16,000 from Ras Al Khaimah."
Mr Oliver hopes the legislation will be rolled out nationwide.
It is common practice in most countries to regulate the fitness industry.
Some licensing requirements are already in place in other emirates.
Sheikha Al Muhery, head of private centres and clubs at the General Authority of Youth and Sports Welfare, said gyms must go through the authority before opening.
Once an application is made, CID must issue a no-objection letter, then the application goes to the Economic Department, which will issue a trade licence. Afterwards, inspectors from the authority examine the premises and equipment.
Ms Al Muhery said coaches and trainers must go through the same visa-vetting process as any other expatriate worker, and their qualifications attested by the relevant federations.
For example, a bodybuilding federation would do the attestation for the trainers at a bodybuilding gym.
The high number of freelance coaches in Abu Dhabi irritates other sports professionals.
"Its frustrates me," said Stephen Haddin, of Haddin's gym at Zayed Sports City. "I called for it [regulation] two years ago with the health authorities as it will create a stronger fitness industry.
"You have a lot of unqualified and unregulated people in the market, which is a risk. Someone is going to get injured."
Jonathan Clayton, of Middle East Fitness Professionals, agreed with the idea of stricter rules.
"It'll be great to get regulations because there are a lot of trainers who may not have certification or got them a long time ago and never kept them up, and are making loads of business out of it," he said.
Mr Clayton said one of his new clients was injured because of unqualified trainers and she dislocated her shoulder at a fitness camp.
"She was overweight and they were getting her to do ridiculous movements," he said.