With parkrun in France still paused, we wanted to provide an update to French parkrunners about the latest situation and to provide some additional context about exactly why we have taken the decision to suspend parkruns in France and what parkrun has been doing to try and solve this situation.
We are very conscious that many parkrunners and event teams are disappointed with the fact that we have had to suspend events in France. We share that disappointment, and we hope that this communication will help to explain the current situation in more detail.
As previously communicated, the issue we are facing in France is related to the requirement for a medical certificate to take part in competitive sports activities. When parkrun was initially set-up in France (under a separate legal entity, ‘parkrun France’) the organisers were under the impression that by listing the results in alphabetical order (and not by time), parkrun would be deemed to be non-competitive and therefore a medical certificate would not be required for those taking part.
However, when in 2019 parkrun Global (the charity responsible for all parkruns around the world) took over the control of parkrun France, it became evident that there was no written confirmation of this exemption. parkrun Global therefore, in the autumn of 2019, commissioned advice from experienced French Sports lawyers to understand the legal position.
This advice indicated that as parkrun is not affiliated under a sports federation in France, it has no legal obligation to request a medical certificate from each participant. However, as an event organiser, parkrun is still bound by what is known as a ‘general safety requirement’ (“obligation de moyens”) and we were therefore strongly advised to request medical certificates from our participants. This legal advice quoted a former French Minister of Sport answering this specific question:
“In terms of civil liability, any organiser of a sporting event, whatever its nature, is required to ensure the safety of participants and to cover the essential risks arising from this activity. Also, the failure to provide a medical certificate mentioning the absence of contraindication to competitive sports practice could legitimately be taken into account as an element of appreciation enabling the judge to conclude that the organiser has failed to fulfil the above-mentioned obligation in the event of a medical accident occurring to a participant. It is likely that the organiser’s civil liability may be engaged if a safety precaution that could have been taken is actually lacking.”
After the interruption from COVID, which led to the global pause of parkrun events, parkrun Global pursued the issue throughout 2021 & 2022. We tested the legal advice against other events and organisations, to see if there were other ways in which the requirement for medical certificates could be avoided. Our understanding is that this was not possible, without compromising on the simple delivery model of parkrun. We do not feel it is feasible to ask events to collect medical certificates on a weekly basis, nor do we see that a digital solution for medical certificates is workable or scalable. Alternatives such as removing timing and results altogether feels like it would take away one of the integral features of parkrun. And we have been given clear legal advice that asking participants to sign a waiver before taking part does not remove our general safety obligation.
Whilst we are aware that other events, some similar to parkrun, use a waiver in order to justify not collecting medical certificates, our understanding based on extensive research and legal advice is that in that situation there remains a level of risk that as a global charity we are not comfortable with. Importantly, this is in relation to possible civil and criminal liability for both volunteers and staff.
We also tried to understand whether there was anything else that we could do at our parkrun events that could demonstrate that we were fulfilling our general safety obligation, outside of the medical certificate requirements. For example, in 2022 we ordered and supplied defibrillators (AEDs) to all French parkrun events. However, the legal advice remained that whilst other mitigating actions such as supplying defibrillators could help, the failure to request medical certificates could still be held against us in the case of a serious medical incident.
Global Board decision
Given the uncertain legal situation around parkrun & medical certificates, the parkrun Global Board made the decision in July of this year to suspend parkrun France events with immediate effect. As a global charity, with a responsibility to parkrunners around the world, they concluded that the risk to the organisation, whilst being very small given the numbers of weekly participants in France, could be extremely serious in the event of a critical medical incident at an event.
The major concern overall is that, following a serious medical incident, a French court could judge us to have broken the law, which would then invalidate our insurance or lead to criminal prosecution. That then could result in significant financial or legal penalties for any involved party, from the local event volunteers themselves, to the parkrun organisation and/or Global Board.
Change of French law & lobbying the French Athletics Federation
In March 2022, there was a change in French law, giving sports governing bodies the ability to decide definitively whether an event or activity requires medical certificates, and to determine how often they need to be renewed. With the Paris 2024 Olympic Games coming up, the French government is eager to get more people to become physically active and lower the threshold to take part in sporting activities.
Since the summer of 2022 we have therefore been lobbying the French Athletics Association, with the help of World Athletics, for them to consider whether parkrun can be exempted from the requirement to provide medical certificates. Given the nature of parkrun events and their demonstrated safety, as evidenced by the peer-reviewed paper published in the BJSM (link here) we are of the strong belief that, for the overall benefit of public health, we should not need to request medical certificates from participants. We have prepared and sent detailed papers to the French Athletics Federation to argue our case, and have had initial dialogue with them – both on email and in person and they do seem open to having a more comprehensive meeting and discussing the possibility of granting us an exemption.
We continue to work hard to lobby the French Athletics Association to see if a solution can be found whereby the recent change in French law allows for a relaxing of the rules for parkrun and potentially other similar small scale, non-competitive events, where the focus is on participation. We would like to try and find a resolution to this matter as quickly as possible, but clearly the timescales for moving the issues forward have been slower than we would have liked.
Whilst the parkrun community in France may be small, we hope that this communication outlines the steps that the organisation has taken to bring back parkrun events in France, and our determination to explore all possibilities that are open to us.
We remain fully committed to both the return of parkrun France and the future expansion of events.
With parkrun in France still paused, we wanted to provide an update to French parkrunners about the latest situation and to provide some additional context about exactly why we have taken the decision to suspend parkruns in France and what parkrun has been doing to try and solve this situation. We are very conscious…
This update is also available in English here. Alors que le parkrun en France est toujours en pause, nous avons voulu fournir une mise à jour aux parkrunners français sur la dernière situation et fournir un contexte supplémentaire sur la raison exacte pour laquelle nous avons pris la décision de suspendre les parkruns en…