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Parkrun event director quits over ‘inclusive policy’ as CEO pleads to ‘turn heat down’ on trans row

Parkrun
Parkrun is a mass participation running event held in public parks every Saturday morning - ALAMY/Alan Harbottle

Parkrun is facing a backlash over its decision to scrap all-time records after a row over transgender athletes taking female records.

One event director resigned in response to the sudden removal of records as the organisation’s chief executive pleaded for less “heat” over the trans debate.

All-time gender records disappeared from the websites of every Parkrun and Junior Parkrun around the world on Thursday.

Russ Jefferys, the chief executive of Parkrun, is adamant that the decision – which also includes scrapping best times across age and course brackets – was not influenced by an ongoing campaign to make participants declare their sex at birth after it was reported that at least three female records were set by transgender women.

Weekly results of the 5km race, which is run by thousands of people every Saturday morning, will still be published, with Parkrun saying that its primary function is working as a public health charity rather than facilitating competition.

But the move fuelled accusations of “sex discrimination” from critics including former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies, who said it had taken a “cowardly” position.

The Women’s Rights Network said that Parkrun “would rather stop publishing age category data and rankings rather than allow fair sport for women and girls”, adding, “there’s only been uproar now because they’d rather wipe records than be fair to women”.

Mr Jefferys said: “I think we need to be careful about making serious accusations – sadly there is just a lot of anger and emotion in this conversation.

“I think we would all benefit from just turning the heat down and remembering that, in the end, Parkrun is a free, fun community event and a great way to start the weekend.”

‘Not a competitive athletic event’

Speaking on BBC 5Live, Mr Jefferys was challenged over Parkrun’s suggestion that displaying records on the website had become off-putting to new entrants and was asked if they had received complaints.

“Not so much complaints but we conduct regular surveys and we know that one of the biggest barriers … to participation is the misperception that Parkrun is a race,” he said.

“I think the criticism we faced from the Women’s Rights Network and others is down to a total misunderstanding of what Parkrun is. It is not a race. It is not a competitive athletic event.”

He added that since the event’s inception as a time trial in 2004, it has “clearly evolved” into a “health charity”.

The chief executive’s comments came after a Parkrun official quit his role over the move.

Mick Anglim announced his departure as Brockenhurst’s Parkrun event director on Thursday night, writing on Facebook that he had resigned “in response to HQ’s new ‘inclusive’ policy”.

He later told Telegraph Sport that “everyone that I’ve spoken to agrees that the removal of age category and age grade records is a mistake”. Mr Anglim, who won the world duathlon title for over-75s in 2022, said that he would not completely abandon the Brockenhurst event, which has attracted almost 14,000 people aged between four and 90, but that the change had reduced “motivation and challenge for all age groups”.

‘If the records offend you, don’t look at them’

The Facebook page ‘Parkrun Statsgeek Group’, which has more than 13,000 members, launched an online poll to gauge opinion about the change. Of more than 2,200 responses, 82 per cent indicated their disagreement with the new policy.
Members aired their dismay in comments.

“The most disappointing news I’ve heard in a very long time,” wrote Christian Dyer. “Why would parkrun wish to take away features adored by the vast majority to please a tiny – if that – minority?! It’s simply absurd and very sad.”

Nat Konners said that she had an “80-year-old friend who is motivated by going out to see if they can get the age record at different parkruns” and that they would probably now lose motivation. “How’s that fair? Seriously if the records etc personally offend you… don’t look,” she said.

Paul Curtayne questioned whether people would really be put off – as has been suggested by Parkrun – by the now removed tab of records and “drill-down stats” that was previously on their websites. “It’s obviously nonsense,” he said. “I know many runners who run 40-50 minutes and are not remotely worried that there are faster people. It’s pretty patronising to suggest that.”

World Athletics, along with domestic running governing bodies, has moved to ban transgender women from female competition over the past year.

Campaigners are calling for a “sex at birth” category in Parkrun but organisers have refused, saying that it was a community event rather than a race. This leaves runners free to continue self-selecting their gender, amid concern that transgender people, whose transition might be entirely private, would stop attending if a ‘sex at birth’ category was mandated.

Runners wearing ‘Save Women’s Sport’ T-Shirts are planning to continue their protests this weekend.

Heather Binning, the founder of the Women’s Rights Network, replied: “Whilst Mr Jefferys believes that the fact Parkrun is not a race (debatable); nor a sport (debatable); he himself is missing the point that self-id is not law in this country – Parkrun receives millions pounds of public funds to increase participation of women and therefore the fact that their policies permit men to self-identify in this category is wrong on many levels.”

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