Parkrun is facing backlash for its decision to scrap all-time records after a row over transgender athletes who set female records.
An event director resigned in response to the sudden removal of documents as the organisation’s chief executive called for less “heat” in the trans debate.
All-time gender records disappeared from the websites of every Parkrun and Junior Parkrun around the world on Thursday.
Russ Jefferys, chief executive of Parkrun, is adamant that the decision – which also includes the removal of best times based on age and course bands – was not influenced by an ongoing campaign to get participants to declare their their sex at birth after it was reported that at least three female records were set by transgender women.
Weekly results of the 5km run, which is run by thousands of people every Saturday morning, will still be published, with Parkrun saying its main function is to work as a public health charity rather than facilitate the competition .
But the move fueled accusations of “sexual discrimination” from critics, including former Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies, who said she had taken a “vile” position.
The Women’s Rights Network said Parkrun would “rather stop publishing data and rankings on age categories than allow fair sport for women and girls”, adding that “there has only been controversy now because they would rather erase records than be honest towards women”.
Jefferys said: “I think we need to be careful about making serious accusations – unfortunately there’s just a lot of anger and emotion in this conversation.
“I think everyone would benefit from simply turning down the heat and remembering that, at the end of the day, Parkrun is a free, fun community event and a great way to start the weekend.”
“It is not a competitive sporting event”
Speaking on BBC 5Live, Jefferys was challenged about Parkrun’s suggestion that viewing records on the website had become off-putting for new registrants and asked if they had received any complaints.
“There aren’t many complaints, but we do 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 have faced from the Women’s Rights Network and others is due to a total misunderstanding of what Parkrun is. It’s not a race. It is not a competitive sporting event.”
He added that since the event began as a time trial in 2004, it has “clearly evolved” into a “health charity”.
The chief executive’s comments came after a Parkrun official left his role due to the move.
Mick Anglim announced his departure as director of Brockenhurst’s Parkrun event on Thursday evening, writing on Facebook that he had resigned “in response to HQ’s new ‘inclusive’ policy”.
He later told Telegraph Sport that “everyone I have spoken to agrees that the removal of the age category and age class records is a mistake”. Anglim, who won the over-75s world duathlon title in 2022, said he would not completely abandon the Brockenhurst event, which 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 documents offend you, don’t look at them”
The Facebook page “Parkrun Statsgeek Group”, which has more than 13,000 members, launched an online survey to gauge opinion on the change. Of the more than 2,200 responses, 82% indicated they disagreed with the new policy.
Members expressed their dismay in the comments.
“The most disappointing news I have heard in a long time,” wrote Christian Dyer. “Why would parkrun want to take away features loved by the vast majority to please a small, if any, minority?! It’s just absurd and very sad.”
Nat Konners said he has an “80-year-old friend who is motivated by going to see if they can get the age record at different parkruns” and would probably lose motivation now. “How is this fair? Seriously, if the documents etc. they offend you personally…don’t look,” he said.
Paul Curtayne questioned whether people would actually be put off – as Parkrun suggested – by the now removed records and “detailed statistics” tab that previously featured on their websites. “It’s obviously nonsense,” he said. “I know many runners who run 40-50 minutes and are not at all worried that there are faster people. It’s quite condescending to suggest that.
World Athletics, along with domestic running’s governing bodies, have moved to ban transgender women from women’s competitions over the past year.
Campaigners are calling for a “sex at birth” category at Parkrun but organizers have refused, saying it was a community event rather than a race. This leaves runners free to continue to self-select their gender, out of concern that transgender people, whose transition may be entirely private, would stop participating if a “sex at birth” category was imposed.
Runners wearing T-shirts reading “Save Women’s Sport” are planning to continue their protests this weekend.
Heather Binning, founder of the Women’s Rights Network, responded: “While Mr Jefferys believes that Parkrun is not a (debatable) race; nor a sport (questionable); he himself misses the point that personal identity is not law in this country: Parkrun receives millions of pounds of public funding to increase women’s participation and so the fact that their policies allow men to identify in this category is wrong on many levels.”