In March 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic took hold, we closed all of our events across the 23 countries in which we operate. At that time there were many unknowns, particularly around transmission, and it was clear that swift and decisive action was required.
Since then, our understanding of the virus has dramatically improved and there is strong evidence that outdoor environments are low risk in terms of transmission.
As part of our reopening process we commissioned a review of the evidence relating to outdoor environments and worked with experts in the transmission of infectious disease to model the impact of parkrun events.
Since reopening we have delivered over 50,000 events, across 19 countries, where almost one million people have participated over five million times. In every region where we operate we work closely with contact tracing teams, and to date we have not received notification of a single confirmed instance of COVID-19 transmission at one of our events.
As a UK-registered charity, with a public health mission, our aim is to improve the health and wellbeing of as many people as possible, no matter who they are, no matter where they live.
The parkrun event delivery model allows us to positively impact public health, at huge scale and low cost. A recent report utilising WELLBY1 found that for every £1 spent parkrun’s return on investment (ROI) could be as high as £30.
This would mean that in the UK alone parkrun generates at least £150 million in health and wellbeing impact each year (and this could be as much as four times higher).
Empirical evidence shows that participation in parkrun improves individual and population health and wellbeing, especially for those from deprived areas who tend to have higher levels of inactivity and lower health outcomes. We also know that people from lower socio-economic groups have been disproportionately impacted and are also the most likely to experience poor health.
And it is clear that improved health and wellbeing is a powerful tool in improving immune function, including resilience to viral diseases like COVID-19.
Unsurprisingly, the absence of parkrun, as a consequence of events being closed due to the COVID-19 pandemic, has been shown to negatively impact people’s health and wellbeing, especially mental health and social connections2. Females, younger adults, inactive people and those from more deprived areas were more likely to report having been negatively impacted, and are less likely to have returned to parkrun.
Sadly, the closure of parkrun events saw 1.7 million fewer people register with us than we would have expected, and 22 million fewer instances of participation, which in itself significantly and negatively impacted health and wellbeing.
However, there will also be a legacy of that break in participation where, for years to come, many people will either participate less or not at all, increasing the prevalence of poor mental and physical health, and compounding social isolation and exclusion.
Now, more than ever, it is clear that the public health benefits of keeping activities like parkrun (that are outdoors, community-based, and with a public health focus) open are significant, and vastly outweigh the negligible risks of COVID-19 transmission.
It is important that such activities are accessible, especially for those who would benefit most.
At the core of our mission is that parkrun should be free, for everyone, forever, and we have worked tirelessly for almost two decades to make parkrun events as accessible and inclusive as possible. We will never stop pursuing that objective.
Our success in engaging a wide variety of people and being a force for social good lies in removing barriers to event delivery and to participation. Unfortunately, across the world, we are now seeing authorities implementing restrictions which act as a barrier to participation in our events.
To the best of our knowledge, there is no evidence that the benefits of preventing participation in parkrun events based on an individual’s level of immunity outweigh the negative public health impact of doing so.
And yet from this Saturday, in New Zealand, parkrun events will reopen only for those who have been fully vaccinated. And for several weeks now, in parts of Germany, parkrun participants have been required to demonstrate either a negative test, recovery from previous infection, or proof of vaccination.
For the first time ever, we are having to consciously exclude people from participating in our events.
Whilst we recognise that vaccines are an important tool, we also need to prioritise the things we can do to build our resilience and improve our health and wellbeing.
To make our position clear: given everything we now know, parkrun events should remain open. It is vital that communities are able to come together to be active, outdoors, and social. And without robust supporting evidence, showing that the risks outweigh the benefits, communities should not be prevented from delivering parkrun events, and people should not be prevented from participating.
The World Health Organisation state that: “The right to health must be enjoyed without discrimination on the grounds of race, age, ethnicity or any other status. Non-discrimination and equality requires states to take steps to redress any discriminatory law, practice or policy.”
People’s right to be active, outdoors, and social, for the benefit of individual and population level health and wellbeing, should never be deemed ‘discretionary’ and should be protected for our and future generations.
The world has never needed activities like parkrun as much as we do now. We therefore call on governments around the world to recognise parkrun, and activities like it, as an essential public health intervention, and to ensure parkrun events can remain open and accessible to all, now and forever.
Chief Executive Officer
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