World Athletics president Lord Coe has told decision-makers to back the return of Parkrun “or risk losing it forever”.
The weekly community running events take place in hundreds of parks across the UK, but were suspended in March because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Organisers say plans to resume in early June “hang in the balance” with under half of its venues granting permission.
“We should be proud of how ParkrunUK has helped make the world healthier and happier,” Coe tweeted.
“It is now time to ensure it has a future. We must act to save this great health and wellbeing charity.”
Culture secretary Oliver Dowden has said ministers will write to local authorities and landowners about allowing Pakrun to restart.
“We will shortly be sending a very clear message and signal in writing to local authorities about our expectation that those events should proceed,” Dowden told the Commons on Thursday.
Sadiq Khan, the mayor of London, has also backed the return of the initiative.
“My City Hall team stand ready to work with London Councils, the Parkrun team and volunteer organisers to help make this a reality,” he said.
The Parkrun movement was founded in Bushy Park, London, in 2002 by Paul Sinton-Hewitt and is now active in 22 countries.
Runners or walkers can take part in 5km events on Saturday mornings, while 2km junior events take place on Sunday mornings. Events are free and run by volunteers, but also rely on local councils and land owners to let them be staged.
There are 729 different locations across the UK holding the weekly events and more than two million runners have taken part.
Despite being given permission by the UK government to return on 5 June, and having support from Public Health England and Sport England, organisers say “a combination of obstacles – including misunderstanding of the roadmap [out of lockdown], reluctance, hesitation and unnecessary red tape – threatens to delay the return of Parkrun indefinitely”.
BBC Sport understands that more than 300 venues are yet to approve the resumption of the events, with the problem particularly acute in London, where only three land owners have agreed.
Organisers fear that if that number does not increase dramatically by Friday, the plans will have to be shelved because of concerns over overcrowding at the events that do resume.
“With all other sports returning, alongside the reopening of indoor dining and hospitality, further roadblocks to Parkrun’s return feel unreasonable, with non-response, red tape and internal administrative processes standing in the way of the inclusive, community physical activity” they said.
‘We risk losing it forever’
In an open letter, Coe wrote: “Parkrun has been referred to as one of the greatest public health initiatives of the 21st century.
“I know that Parkrun has been… 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.”
A spokesperson for the Local Government Association (LGA) told BBC Sport: “Councils understand how valued events such as Parkrun are for people’s mental and physical wellbeing.
“They are keen to help manage the safe return of events in their area and the LGA has been liaising with organisers to support their restart.
“The pent-up demand for events has meant councils have received about 600% more applications than normal, including from Parkrun.
“Waiting for confirmation of the ‘recovery road map’ timeline has also forced most of these requests to be sent at short notice, and many event organisers are looking to use the same outdoor spaces.
“Parks and green spaces are especially busy with many previously indoor activities taking place outside during the pandemic.
“Councils appreciate the enthusiasm for resuming events, but need to carefully consider all requests to ensure that everyone involved can take part safely.
“Councils are working as fast as they can to process all requests, but need organisers to understand the scale of the challenge they are facing, with public safety the most important criteria to consider for all park users.”
This week. the Sport Minister Nigel Huddleston said: “I urge all local authorities to work with their local Parkrun organisers to ensure these events can take place in a covid secure way, so as not to lose these important participation events.”