Runners urge Welsh Government to lift Covid restriction as Parkrun events remain suspended

'Initiatives like Parkrun are crucial', passionate runner Andrew Fairclough says as events remain cancelled in Wales

Runners who would usually attend Parkrun have gathered for a run in Cardiff to stand against Covid restrictions that mean the events have been cancelled in Wales.

Parkrun is a free 5K running efent that takes place every Saturday morning in parks and open spaces across the world and is open for all ages.

Each event can attract hundreds of runners every week.

But they have been suspended in Wales due to Covid restrictions limiting outdoor gatherings of more than 50 people.

Parkrun said it had no choice but to cancel its Welsh events as a result. Events are still going ahead in England, Scotland and Northern Ireland.

On Saturday morning, Cardiff runners gathered for '#NotAParkrun', and called on the Welsh Government to provide evidence that supports its decision to restrict outdoor events.

A small group of runners came together to run the Cardiff Parkrun route on Saturday.

Andrew Fairclough, who regularly attends Parkruns, organised the demonstration at the usual Cardiff Parkrun route along the Taff Trail and around Bute Park.

He said: "If Mr Drakeford could present definitive evidence that there is transmission outside, I wouldn't be here, but that evidence isn't there.

"There are loopholes, and at times it does feel political when you see England, Scotland and Northern Ireland doing something different and Wales does this.

"Let's not punish the people who just want to exercise together."

Parkrun in Cardiff usually attracts more than 400 runners every week, according to its website.

It relies on volunteers to support the runners by setting up, marshalling, timekeeping, registering entries and handing out finish tokens.

Parkruns attract thousands of people every week. Credit: PA Images

In 2020, the events were put on hold in Wales for almost 18 months but resumed in August 2021.

Justifying its decision to cancel events again, Parkrun said while some Welsh events attract fewer than 50 people, "it would take a very small influx for them to exceed the limit".

In a statement announcing the closure, it added: "We understand that this news will be incredibly disappointing to many Welsh Parkrunners, and we'd like to reassure you all that we will do everything we can to bring Parkrun events back across Wales as soon as these restrictions are lifted.

"As with any suspension of Parkrun events, in any country where we operate, we would encourage people not to gather at any time, at locations where events would normally take place."

It said junior Parkrun events can still go ahead and are open for children aged between four and 14 years old.

Andrew explained his motivation behind the demonstration: "Normally this morning you'd see up to about 600-700 people here - as you can see there are a handful of people here.

"We know the benefits of health and exercise, both physically and mentally, and there's certainly a herd mentality when it comes to Parkrun.

"It gets people out of bed on Saturday morning, coming together."

He also emphasised how exercise can play its part in dealing with the Covid pandemic itself.

"In terms of the prognosis of Covid, we know our outcomes are better if we're fitter and healthier."

Mark Drakeford emphasised that Parkruns have not been banned by the Welsh Government. Credit: PA Images

During a press conference on Friday, the First Minister reiterated that 50 people can still run together and stressed the events are not banned.

"Parkruns are not banned, Parkruns can take place within the numbers that the rules allow," he said.

"50 people can take part as participants in events, and 50 more people can be there to help with the organisation of those events.

"Some organisations are able and willing to operate within those rules and other organisations choose not to."

'The idea that things are banned in Wales - I just don't think it is a fair description', First Minister Mark Drakeford said

He added that he has witnessed runners "getting together in modest numbers", and labelled "the idea that things are banned" as unfair.

"I just don't think it is a fair description of what is possible and what any people are managing to do within the rules as they are."

Andrew Fairclough said initiatives like Parkrun are "crucial".

Andrew said Mr Drakeford's comments "demonstrate the disconnect from [him] and the people."

He added: "If he came down here and knew what Parkrun was about, he'd understand that it's not about 50 people, Parkrun is Parkrun because of the people, the community spirit and sport.

"Initiatives like Parkrun are crucial in motivating people that perhaps wouldn't ordinarily do things on their own."

The same restrictions have also left the Welsh rugby team facing the prospect of playing their home matches in the Six Nations behind closed doors.

Wales are set to play their first home game against Scotland on 12 February.

The Welsh Rugby Union is exploring the option of staging home games in England in a bid to generate an income, should the shut-out of meaningful crowds continue.

The Welsh Government has said there will be no lifting of safety measures for at least another two weeks.