French admin stops 'parkruns' in France

Volunteer-led network operates in 21 countries but has run into a legal hurdle in France over participants and medical certificates

Runners joining in a 5km Parkrun activity in the UK - the races have been banned in France
The free and open format of the 5km races has gained tremendous popularity worldwide
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Parkrun, the volunteer-led network of free weekly running events has suspended its activity in France indefinitely saying it cannot comply with the country’s strict legal framework for sporting events without changing its format beyond recognition. 

The parkrun network was founded in the UK by Paul Sinton-Hewitt on October 2, 2004 on a simple premise: “walk, jog, run - enjoy the atmosphere”.

No prior experience is required for people either to join in or to support an event as a volunteer. Indeed, parkrun encourages people with a health condition or disability to come and “soak up the atmosphere and have a chat”.

This format has caused the parkrun network to spread internationally to over six million members - including 500,000 regular volunteers - in 21 countries. 

However, it also runs contrary to the prevailing format of associative sporting activities in France, which are largely organised top-down, requiring both association membership - and crucially - a licence, or permit, for sporting activities. This requires a medical certificate.

In 2022, parkrun suspended its events in France pending legal advice. On May 16, the network announced that its events will remain suspended “for the foreseeable future”.

The decision has left many runners disappointed, with one telling The Connexion: “It’s ironic that parkrun cannot happen in France, especially in the year the Olympics are being held here!”

Another runner, Seth Dixon, six, from Chitry-les-Mines (Nièvre), who regularly takes part in 2km Junior parkruns on trips back to the UK, told The Connexion: “I love being able to run with other kids and see how fast I am when the times are posted online. I’m sad I can’t keep it up in France.

“We’ve looked for a parkrun locally and my parents talked about setting one up, but now there’s no chance it will happen. It’s really unfair.”

Read more: British man proud to carry Paris Olympics torch in France 

What are the rules about running in France?

For many years, people without a licence (ie. not members of a running club) were required to visit a doctor to get a medical certificate before taking part in a race.

This rule changed in March 2022, after a new law, the loi Sport, was introduced to make sporting activities more accessible.

The result of this law was the Parcours De Prevention Sante (PPS), a health prevention course that people must complete prior to engaging in a sporting activity. This requires watching an online video and answering questions, which can be done for free here.

People under the age of 18 must complete a detailed medical questionnaire and get a doctors’ certificate in case of any ‘wrong’ answers.

Read more: Top ten healthiest places to live in France listed in new study 

Why has parkrun suspended its events in France?

While these new requirements are more practical than the previous obligation of getting a medical certificate from a doctor, parkrun says there is “no reasonable way” they could be applied to its events.

“We have spent significant time considering whether it would be possible,” announced parkrun on May 16. “ We have concluded that there is no reasonable way that we could do so. 

“If we were to reopen events we would need to do so in direct contradiction to the medical requirements set out by French Athletics, which then creates inappropriate levels of risk regarding potential legal action resulting from serious medical incidents.”

The network stresses that any such medical incident could result in legal action against either parkrun or individual volunteers.

Such ‘serious medical incidents’ occur once for every 300,000 participants, the network says. Since 400,000 participants partake in the network’s events each weekend globally, such incidents - and the legal backlash - become inevitable.