Athletes have condemned a local parish council’s decision to charge the popular “Parkrun” movement for the use of their park to stage running events.
Olympians such as Jo Pavey, Paul Radcliffe and Kelly Holmes, sports presenter Sue Barker and Sports Minister Tracey Crouch have denounced the decision by Stoke Gifford Parish Council.
The council near Bristol became the first in the world to announce they would charge participants £1 each to take part as they decided it was unfair to expect local residents to pay for the upkeep of the park used by up to 300 runners each Saturday.
But the decision has been condemned by Parkrun, who have withdrawn the Little Stoke event, and a petition against the charges has been signed by nearly 40,000 people.
European gold medallist and long distance runner Jo Pavey told ITV News the introduction of fees would “put up barriers for getting out there and enjoying the Parkrun and goes against the spirit of what Parkrun stands for”.
She said it seemed like the council’s decision was just about making money.
The team who organise the London Marathon also pledged their support.
In a statement on their website, Parkrun organisers said they planned to appeal the council’s decision and were looking at their legal options for doing so.
They said every Parkrun is co-ordinated by volunteers and participants do not pay a subscription or affiliation fees.
As such, they do not expect to have exclusive use of the park and want to to work with local authorities to share open spaces with the public.
Tom Williams, Chief Operating Officer for Parkrun, said: “As we look towards opening our 1,000th location later this year it is clear that a per-event or per-runner charge simply would not be sustainable and would threaten our free-to-participate ethos. By agreeing to a charge in relation to use of the land at Little Stoke Park we would be establishing a precedent that would put the future of Parkrun at risk.
"Parkrun has successfully moved nearly 60,000 previously inactive people into regular healthy activity. The key to this success has been a focus on removing barriers to event delivery as much as barriers to participation."
Graham Evans MP, the Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group for Running, said he had written to the council about alternative ways it can raise money for the maintenance of the parks.
He said: "I am a huge fan of Parkrun and regularly take part with my family – the children love it, and my wife and I love being out in the fresh air using our beautiful parks and countryside with them. I sincerely hope that a solution will be found to enable Little Stoke Parkrun to continue.”
Stoke Gifford Parish Council described Parkrun as an organisation with paid directors and staff - meaning it should contribute towards the park's upkeep.
"The parish council has only recently paid out £55,000 from public funds for resurfacing the car park and with the additional 300-plus runners per week, will shortly need to replace/repair the path at an estimated cost of £60,000, so as Parkrun are significant users of the path on a regular basis they should contribute towards the upkeep," it said.
Additional reporting by PA
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