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Parkrun scrapped ‘A-Z records’ over climate fears to stop runners travelling the world

Runners take part in a Parkrun event to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the NHS at Stormont in Belfast
Runners take part in a Parkrun event at Stormont in Belfast - PA

Concern over the environmental impact of ‘Parkrun tourism’, which includes participants visiting locations beginning with every letter of the alphabet, has been revealed among the reasons for deleting an all-time record list from the charity’s website.

Parkrun prompted uproar last month when it removed a raft of ‘performance’ statistics after ruling that they were not in line with the event’s self-styled ‘non-competitive’ status, but there was bafflement when lists of people attending the most different events also vanished.

An internal communication to volunteers and ambassadors, however, revealed unease among Parkrun leaders about celebrating records which encourage people to tour its 2,200 venues worldwide.

Completing an ‘A-Z’ of Parkrun locations, which are now spread across 22 different countries but still mostly in the UK, comes with considerable kudos in the running community and is a major motivation for some participants. A book – ‘P is for Parkrun – a Journey from A to Z’ – has even been written on the subject.

The Facebook page ‘Parkrun Tourism’ has more than 37,000 members and, while some supported the climate message, others were aghast, asking whether other organisations would start discouraging tourism.

“I am not an uber-Parkrun tourist but I have been to 45 locations in two countries so far,” said Will Hartley, a geography teacher from Woking, who intends to visit Poland next month and complete a Parkrun there. “I tell my students all the time how important it is to protect the environment, but I think this type of message is taking some of the fun and enjoyment out. A more positive way of doing this might have been encouraging car-sharing initiatives.”

Stu Rutherford and Joanne Parker described the move as “woke” while Pippa Cumbers questioned where this all might end. “Is the world suddenly stopping the tourist industry?” she asked.

‘It doesn’t feel right for us to encourage this’

Parkrun, which says that its mission is to “create a healthier and happier planet”, acknowledges that the ‘most events’ page was a “value add” for many but said that “actively encouraging…‘Parkrun tourism’ or certain ‘challenges’ could mean more strain on event capacity”.

A spokesperson added: “Given increasing concerns about environmental impact, it doesn’t feel right for us to encourage this, particularly when the vast majority of people participate only at their local Parkrun.”

The deletion of various speed records, including all-time male and female course records for every age category, had followed protests over Parkrun’s gender self-identification policy and how several records in the female category were held by transgender women.

Parkrun, which denies removing records as a result of the transgender campaign, has continued with its gender self-identification policy but will not be summoned to a Government roundtable next month when governing bodies in football and cricket will be among those asked why they have not implemented a sex-at-birth female category.

The charity says that there is a key difference between its “community-led, socially focused physical activity events” and the competitive sport that is organised by national federations. Sport England also told The Telegraph that it has “no cause for concern” over a £5 million investment it has made in Parkrun as part of its ‘Uniting the Movement’ strategy to get more people active.

Parkrun has grown from 13 runners when it was launched in 2004 to more than nine million registered participants, but its decision last month to remove various performance data has prompted a major backlash. Almost 25,000 people have so far signed a petition asking organisers to reinstate the statistics.

Parkun says that there has been no adverse impact on participation numbers since it deleted the various performance data.

Asked if he had any evidence that records on a Parkrun website were off-putting to new entrants, or whether there had been any complaints, Parkun chief executive Russ Jefferys said: “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.”

Although many comparative all-time lists have gone, Parkrun has retained weekly individual times, positions, gender classifications, personal bests and age gradings.

Special report

How Parkrun record row ended up at the centre of the culture wars

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