I have never been prouder of the running community. We are a positive bunch; committed to getting more people running more often, and evangelists for the good running does for body and mind. And today, we have succeeded in creating a better environment for running for generations to come.
Just over six months ago I was out for a run, listening to a Marathon Talk podcast. I stopped dead in my tracks when I heard the hosts discussing new guidelines from the Department for Education that encouraged schools to punish kids with “extra physical activity such as running around a playing field”.
A Google search later, I was reading Jason Henderson’s ‘Memo to Michael Gove’ on the Athletics Weekly website and genuinely questioning what was happening within the Department for Education.
I decided to do something about it and penned a petition on the change.org website. Following a few tweets to key figures within the sport, the petition spread widely via social media, gaining almost 10,000 signatures.
The campaign received some media coverage, and the main players within running contacted me to discuss how we could change the guideline. The easy option was for an all out media campaign attacking the Government position. However, with a man like Michael Gove in post, we decided that was more likely to entrench his belief.
So, with an understanding that the guidelines were to be reviewed later this year, we set off to influence those who mattered that it was wrong to suggest that physical activity, in-particular running, was a negative action – when it in fact helps build a healthy mind and body.
Huge credit must be given to members of the Run Group, a collaboration of multiple players from across the sport who represent millions of runners in the United Kingdom, and who work together to get more people running more often.
Led by David Moorcroft, the interim Chair of the Run Group, Chris Jones, Andy Anstey and Wendy Sly from England Athletics, and Martin Yelling from Marathon Talk, the campaign has been quietly gaining support with key influencers.
Operating collaboratively, all the big hitters of our sport – including Hugh Brasher of London Marathon, Brendan Foster of Nova International, Tom Williams of parkrun, and many others – have been making the case and building momentum.
Their actions have led to Parliamentarians voicing their support for running, with Alistair Burt MP (an active member of Biggleswade Athletics Club) agreeing to lead an All Party Parliamentary Group on Running that will actively work to encourage more people to run more often in the UK.
However, the biggest change came with the appointment of Nicky Morgan as Secretary of State for Education. Unlike her dogmatic predecessor, Nicky is an active member of the running community. She has run the London Marathon, is a trained run group leader and has helped to establish Loughborough parkrun. She gets why running is a good thing and how it can help the Government to achieve a fitter, healthier and more prosperous nation.
It is now clear that once Nicky became aware of the depth of feeling about the guidance, she was determined to do something about it.
Today, she responded to a private letter from David Moorcroft on the issue saying, “I share your view that it threatens to have a negative impact on the sport and on the view young people take of it. One of my priorities as Secretary of State is to encourage schools to do what they can to build the resilience and character of our young people, and I see sport as playing a crucial role in this.” She added “I have therefore asked officials to revise the guidance immediately and to remove any suggestion that running might be used as a form of punishment. A new version of the document – minus the offending clause – will be issued on the Department’s website by the end of the week.” Amazing. Her full letter can be seen below:
Needless to say she should be praised by everyone within our community. Credit where it is due; she is a politician who understands us and is willing to back us.
David Moorcroft told me earlier: “Well done Nicky Morgan. She understood from the start why this mattered and has delivered a change on an issue that could have had a negative impact on running for future generations. As a former PE teacher who remembers the ‘bad old days’, the inclusion of such a sanction had been particularly disappointing given the Olympic and Paralympic Legacy objective of encouraging participation in school sports and wider society. I am delighted that has now been rectified.”
Running is a great metaphor for life; you get out what you put in, there are no easy fixes. The running community did that with this campaign. We came together, voiced our concerns and signed the petition, always campaigning in a non political and responsible manner.
As Paula Radcliffe said when the guidelines were first highlighted, “Physical activity is a joy, a pleasure: something to be embraced and welcomed. We need the next generation to grow up wanting to be active.” I hope we have made a small step towards that goal today. Well done all.