Parkrun's Shift Away from Community Values and Statistical Transparency

May 02, 2024

In a recent meeting between the grassroots movement Bring Back The Stats and parkrun's founder, Paul Sinton-Hewitt, along with CEO Russ Jeffreys, the group found themselves grappling with disappointment and frustration over the trajectory of parkrun's approach to data and community engagement.

In the wake of parkrun's controversial decisions regarding statistical transparency and community engagement, Run Republic sought insight from William Hartley, a prominent voice within the Bring Back The Stats movement. Hartley shed light on the disappointment and frustration shared by many within the community following the meeting.

At the heart of the matter lies parkrun's steadfast decision not to reinstate the stats that were removed in February, a move that sparked significant backlash and led to petitions and media attention. While parkrun did offer minor commitments regarding communication and community involvement, it was made clear that core statistical elements would not return.

Perhaps most concerning was the revelation that parkrun intends to further strip away elements that runners value. Plans to remove gender from weekly results pages and restrict access to other runners' times and results underscored a growing disconnect between parkrun's leadership and the desires of its community.

What makes this stance even more bewildering is the aftermath of "parkrun statsgate" earlier in the year, where public outcry seemed to suggest a desire for more transparency and inclusivity, not less. Comments made by Sinton-Hewitt about the replaceability of dissenting runners and the top-down decision-making process further alienated those hoping for a more community-driven approach.

The revelation that the decision to remove stats was part of a long-standing plan, with a nod to addressing concerns from the "Save Women's Sport" campaign, despite not previously mentioning this, adds layers of complexity to an already contentious issue.

The argument has now been made that parkrun's failure to communicate these intentions earlier, coupled with the dismissive tone toward differing views, erodes trust and undermines the sense of belonging that drew many to the parkrun community in the first place. 

The notion that there might be a market opportunity for a competitor willing to embrace the desires of runners for stats, challenges, and gamification hints at a potential shift in the landscape of community running events.

As parkrun moves forward with its plans, the disappointment felt by groups like Bring Back The Stats serves as a reminder of the delicate balance between organisational strategy and community engagement. The challenge for parkrun will be to navigate these tensions while staying true to the values that endeared it to so many in the first place.

Featured Image: L-R: Alex, Mary and Will

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