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Parkrun Suspended In France For Foreseeable Future

BY: Mark Dredge
22 May 2024

Parkrun has been suspended in France since 2022, and this week Tom Williams, Managing Director Parkrun EMEA, explained that their events will remain suspended until further notice. It’s a complicated situation, as explained in a post to the French parkrun website.

Until recently, a legal requirement from French Athletics meant that any participant at an official race in France had to either be part of a registered licensed team, or had to get a medical certificate from their doctor.

Parkrun is a free weekly run organised by individual parkruns, and managed by volunteers, so technically they didn’t need either of those things for people to take part. But what if someone suffered a serious medical problem at a parkrun event and then took legal action against parkrun?

Parkrun has medical insurance, but if a judge deemed that their events were ‘official’ (in other words that they were races and accountable to the same rules as affiliated French Athletics events) then technically they’d be breaking the law, invalidating their insurance, which could lead to serious legal consequences. 

After taking advice, parkrun France decided to postpone events. “We reached the conclusion that, due to French legal requirements relating to medical certificates, operating in France without requesting medical certificates from participants placed too great a risk on volunteers, staff and the parkrun organisation itself,” explained Williams. 

To help make entry into sporting more accessible, French Athletics recently introduced an online educational course detailing perceived health risks of running events. It meant that participants wanting to take part in a race could complete that course instead of needing a medical certificate. But it wouldn’t make things easier for parkrun. 

An athlete affiliated with a running club would take the course as part of their application to their club, but would then need to demonstrate their status as a licensed athlete at each Parkrun. For a non-affiliated athlete who regularly takes part in parkrun, they’d need to take the course every three months and show proof at each run. Logistically it’s too complicated. 

And it goes against one of the fundamentals of parkrun: that you can sign up once online and then turn up to any parkrun, anywhere in the world. 

Parkrun have considered other options, including not timing their events in France, listing results alphabetically instead of by time, and developing a different sign up for runs, but none of these were seen to be viable options. They even took their own independent review of critical incidents in UK parkruns and presented it to French Athletics. 

That review reported “the incidence of serious life-threatening and fatal medical encounters to be extremely rare, and that the parkrun safety profile appears to be substantially better than that associated with other forms of organised sports and exercise. We are also pleased to hear that the cardiac arrest survival rate is approximately six times better at parkrun than reported out-of-hospital survival rates.”

Because of this, they explain that they “do not believe that requiring participants in 5k races or parkrun events to complete pre-activity courses or obtain medical certificates makes any positive difference to health outcomes. In fact, these requirements may actually negatively impact public health,” as these barriers to participation may deter people from taking part. But French Athletics remained unmoved in their position.

And so parkrun remains indefinitely suspended in France. 

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