An open letter from World Athletics President Sebastian Coe in support of Parkrun.
As much as I have always felt that sport is an incredible force for good, I know that it also provides an opportunity to heal: to make us better.
Coronavirus has left us with deep physical and emotional scars. I have been inspired by the ingenuity and creativity of so many people over the course of the pandemic. Individuals and communities finding hope, laughter and positivity in the darkest of times.
But there is no escaping the fact that the events of the past twelve months have been devastating in so many ways. Of particular concern to me is the fact that inequalities in health and wellbeing have been exacerbated.
We desperately need to find ways of getting fitter, stronger and more resilient. And we need to do it in a way that embraces and includes as much of the population as possible.
As we tentatively look forward, and take those first steps back to normality, grassroots sport can, if we let it, offer the perfect remedy that I know so many individuals and communities are desperately looking for.
London has always been a city that leads the way. Our capital city sets a standard for others to follow, and for centuries this city has been the vanguard of progress and change.
The London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games provided a legacy that was about inclusion, accessibility and diversity. A platform for inspiration, the London Games was a beacon of hope, positivity and togetherness.
But there’s another activity, born in this city and exported around the world, that for 17 years has been bringing communities together, helping to form healthy habits and breaking down barriers to physical activity.
Parkrun has been referred to as one of the greatest public health initiatives of the 21st century. Its footprint is now global, with an influence and a following that crosses borders, inspiring communities from Sheffield to Soweto, and from San Francisco to St Petersburg.
But it all began in London. And it is a legacy that all Londoners should be proud of.
I know that parkrun has been working hard alongside the UK Government, Public Health England and Sport England, patiently waiting for the right time and restrictions to ease to return events across England.
As more of everyday life returns, we must not forget about the things that quietly, efficiently, (perhaps almost without us noticing), offer some of the greatest benefits of all. If we can shop, eat and drink inside restaurants, visit other families in their home, watch live sport, go to the gym, play centres and the theatre then putting on an organised community running event in our parks is really a ‘no brainer’.
Maybe we have taken parkrun for granted. Quietly and unassumingly, parkrun has become part of the fabric of everyday life. But unless we get behind it now, we risk losing it forever.
We should reflect on, and be proud of, how parkrun has helped to make London (and the world) healthier and happier. But it is also time to ensure it has a future.
Because the true legacy of parkrun is not what it has achieved already, but the tonic it could prove to be in the years ahead.
World Athletics President Sebastian Coe