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Parkrun boss finally makes a belated statement about remove records but it is just a smokescreen to cover the row over Transgender athletes?



Parkrun boss finally makes a belated statement about the latest controversy to remove important record! But is it just a smokescreen to cover up a previous row over transgender athletes?


By Don Hale. 

 

It's taken about a week for Russ Jefferys, the CEO of parkrun global to belatedly make a statement about last Thursday’s controversial decision to remove male and female, first, and fast finishers, plus age grades, and age category records from their website.

It is something that has naturally attracted strong debate up and down the country, and no doubt at numerous parkruns across the world! But I still question whether this latest debacle is just a smokescreen to try to hide, and hence remove any existing records relating to transgender athletes!

Parkrun came into being many years ago following a great idea by several like-minded runners, who organised a timed 5k run in their local park, and so from a small acorn, a massive tree of goodwill has eventually spread its roots globally.

It has since become part of a way of life, encouraging men and women of all ages to either take part in a local event by running or walking a 5k route, and/or helping out as a marshall, or volunteer. It has pulled communities together and gives people a chance to keep active, and to have a chat afterwards in a nearby café.

 

Failed to consult with parkrunners.

 

The parkrun boss, however, has missed a fantastic opportunity, by failing to consult with, and to sound out the opinions of their runners, walkers and supporters first, before making a decision that has since caused considerable controversy, and upset so many people involved in this popular Saturday morning event.

I know parkrun is not a race, but whilst ever there is a 5k course, a timed event, and age categories, it becomes competitive to a large portion of entrants. Of course, not everyone either wants to, or is able to run fast, and that is not the aim, but why deprive good athletes, who often travel far to achieve personal best times on a particular course, their ambition to record a course record?

It’s also nice for all runners like me in their twilight years to compare age cat times across the UK and beyond with PBs, elsewhere. What’s the harm in that?

And of course, it must be admitted that despite aiming for a true 5k course, sometimes they may vary slightly, and the terrain is often very different in comparison with other parkruns. Some are run in parks, other on trails, tarmac, or even on beaches!

On the face of it, all parkruns might appear to be the same in distance, but some are obviously more problematic, and more undulating than others. A check on Strava though will provide reasonably accurate data, including the course measurement, route, and elevation etc.


Removing barriers?


Parkrun claim they are removing barriers to participation, but numbers are already rising at many events, following a couple of years of Covid restrictions, and new parkruns are being created all the time, with a generous number of regular weekly participants, so I don’t really go along with that reasoning. 

The boss does however admit that some runners are motivated by competition, and that personal stats matter, but says he wants to make the parkrun more inclusive and welcoming.

When was the last time that he actually visiting a local parkrun, or took part in one? They have been like that for years, and that was one of the main attractions, particularly for non-active runners. It’s local, it’s free, and people can just come and run, and it's always a welcoming experience! Has he only just realised this?


Why not consult with the park running community first?


He cites essential changes needed to the way they display performance related stats, yet thankfully, he acknowledges the need for the retention of individual stats, with timings, age cat results, and a comparison list of previous results.

I think however, the CEO has made a huge mistake with his actions, and the recent feedback seems to back my opinion. It would seem his decision was based on a relatively small survey of which full details have so far not been fully revealed. Did this survey ask parkrunners or other sports people involved with parkrun? How many were involved? What were the questions asked? Were they fun and social runners, or club and elite runners? Will he publish this data?

Despite my reservations about his decision, my concern is that for some unknown reason he didn’t use all the current online email addresses, or text details, of the many hundreds of thousands of runners, volunteers, marshalls, and even sponsors already on their system, to find out what they thought about any proposed changes?

Parkrun seem to use this online data when it suits them to promote sports gear and sponsors’ equipment, when it suits them, so why not take advantage of ready-made source, that are actually involved with parkrun every week?

I gather that at least one major sponsor has already pulled out due to the decision. Was this because they weren’t consulted - just like all of us? Or did they NOT agree with the decision? And did he face any pressure to act from sponsors?


Golden goose getting fatter!


Parkrun seems to have become a cash machine for attracting sponsors to a regular mass participation event (run by volunteers), and the golden goose seems to be getting fatter each year, which in turn has no doubt also boosted the remuneration of parkrun officials. 

 

The CEO is fairly new to this organisation with only a couple of years of experience, and in my opinion, he still has much to learn from grass roots participants, and supporters, who ultimately, help to pay his wages. 

Parkrun people deserve to have say, and I wonder what the original team who actually created the parkrun idea, have to say about these latest changes? Perhaps they sold the idea with a proviso, not to get involved again, or faced a gagging clause in their contracts?

 

What about transgender runners?


With last week’s statement and a report carried with my Blog and via the BBC, I note, as many hundreds of others have also suggested, that the real reason for the removal of these interesting male and female records, is probably more based on their other recent and equally controversial decision regarding the involvement of transgender runners?

It seems that some complaints have been made to parkrun HQ about the participation of biological male athletes, and/or transgender athletes, taking part in women’s events and recording PB times. This has quite naturally upset many top female athletes who claim it is most unfair to compare these results.

 

I note there was no mention of this other important matter in either of the two parkrun statements, and so I presume a transgender athlete can still claim a parkrun time record on the day, and/or an age cat record, without dispute according to the weekly current stats? 

Many have suggested the urgent creation of an open category, but again, I wonder if the parkrun boss has considered seeking any opinion about this other additional but major problem, and whether his latest unjustified action to penalise everyone, was based on his need to eliminate all the records, in order to prevent further potential sexually related complaints?

 

*This is the link to my previous blog about the initial announcement last week:

PARKRUN WILL NO LONGER PUBLISH DATA ABOUT FIRST AND FAST FINISHERS, AGE GRADE, OR CATEGORY RECORDS... Report from the BBC online. 8/2/24.

*SEE MY BLOG FROM LAST WEEK: Don Hale Blog: Parkrun removes data including speed records in or... https://donhaleblog.blogspot.com/2024/02/parkrun-removes-data-including-speed.html?spref=tw

By Russ Jefferys, Chief Executive Officer.

Wednesday 14 February 2024.

 

Dear parkrun community; ambassadors, event teams, and all participants. To the people who come along every weekend to be a part of the feel-good phenomenon that is parkrun, to the occasional parkrunners, and to those yet to experience the magic.

When I took up my post as CEO, just over two years ago, I knew I was taking on the best job in the world. Because parkrun matters. It matters to me, it matters to millions of people around the world, it matters every single weekend, fifty-two weeks of the year.

What I also knew when I took up this role, is that there would be plenty of challenges that would need to be faced head on. I knew that there would be big calls to make, and I knew that ultimately, I would be the person responsible for making them. With that said, I want to take full responsibility for what has happened over the past week surrounding the changes to the way we display performance related statistics and information on our websites.

And I want to take this opportunity to explain to you, the parkrun community, why we took the decision that we did.

parkrun only exists to inspire people, from any background, to come together, to be social, and active, in the great outdoors. That’s it. There is no other motive.

To do this we have a sharp, unwavering focus on removing the barriers to participation which persist for many people, especially for those whom physical activity may not be the norm, those who may never engage with traditional ‘sports’, or be able to afford gyms or other subscriptions, or find any inclusive and welcoming spaces for movement.

I say it again: parkrun only exists to bring people together. It is one of the world’s great levellers, a social health initiative, a sanctuary each weekend, right in the heart of local communities in more than 2,500 locations around the world.

People come to parkrun for many reasons. To be part of the amazing community they are welcomed into, to see their friends old and new, to get some fresh air, to catch up in the cafe afterwards. The parkrun barcode does not simply register a time, or log a volunteer credit, it is anyone’s ticket into one of the friendliest and most welcoming communities I believe exists in the world today. And that ticket is free, for everyone, forever.

I understand that not everyone feels the same, and that others will attend parkrun motivated by competition. That’s fine; everyone is welcome. But we must remember why parkrun exists, and where its true power lies. We must remember parkrun’s incredible ability to change the lives of those who may need it most: those with long term health conditions and those who’ve never found a place that believed in them before. Those struggling with loneliness, or many of the other myriad of challenges modern day life throws at us. Those who truly need free, regular access to physical activity, to community, to healthy habits, but may not have found it yet. And those who may feel intimidated, or afraid, or be convinced that places like parkrun aren’t for people like them.

We have dedicated parkrun’s more recent years to showing more and more people that they do have a home at parkrun. Analysing data, conducting surveys and focus groups, gathering insight, doing everything in our power to become as inclusive as possible. Adding in tail runners that later became tail walkers, introducing parkwalkers, and recognising volunteering as an equal form of participation.

Arguably, parkrun has succeeded in changing the wider narrative about what it even means to be physically active, what you have to wear, or look like, who you need to be. At parkrun you can be anyone. You are welcome. Everyone is welcome.

I truly believe that we have an obligation to continue identifying and removing the barriers that stand in the way. Records were one such example. The fear of finishing last, of being the ‘slowest’, of not being celebrated, of not being as good as everyone else, or not even able to finish at all. None of these things should be a barrier to joining parkrun, but it certainly wasn’t helpful that we were providing prominent links to a considerable amount of data from our home pages that was clearly performance related.

I have never advocated taking the easy option if it isn’t the right thing to do. In this instance, it was obvious we needed to modify our websites if we were to be true to our mission and values.

It is as simple as that. There is no hidden agenda at play. I want to be extremely clear on that.

We know that personal statistics matter, that they can be huge motivators. Many of you will have seen already that this data has not gone away. The information we email out every week, to hundreds of thousands of parkrunners, remains the same. Volunteers will still time the course, you still have the chance to record a personal best (I envy those of you who still might!), and you can still see your age grading if it matters to you.

We recognise everyone. Everyone matters at parkrun.

I hope you, the parkrun community will be able to understand why we have chosen to take this action. Being responsible for an organisation that changes the lives of millions, means being at risk, every time we make a change, of hurting people we care about.

The strength of feeling in response to these changes is evidence of how much people care about parkrun.

But we must bring it back to why parkrun exists, all it has achieved, all we have learnt, and all we must do to put the charity in the best possible position to truly unleash its potential as we continue along our ambitious five-year strategy - more parkruns, more people, more lives changed, more lives saved.

I hope this offers you, the parkrun community, the explanation you deserve. That far from marginalising groups with this action, the idea was only ever to continue on the road to becoming a more inclusive and welcoming community for everyone, forever.

Russ Jefferys CEO parkrun global.

 

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