Small events, groups of 6, and a cultural shift

Small events, groups of 6, and a cultural shift


At the time of writing, the government’s guidelines on social distancing require that gatherings take place only in groups of up to six people unless they are exclusively from two households or support bubbles, subject to limited exceptions as detailed in the updated guidance. 

The government may continue to introduce certain relaxations that will permit gatherings in a sport participation context, building on the 11 July update and the 14th of September update above, relative to team sports (which can now be played in any number where formally organised by a sports club or similar organisation and sports-governing body guidance has been issued). 

However, there is continued uncertainty as to when the government will allow event planning for gatherings on a mass scale. The government’s pilot programme for large crowds at selected sports events was scheduled to begin on 15 August, albeit two weeks later than originally planned due to concerns over an increase in positive COVID-19 cases, with a view to reopening competition venues for sports fans with social distancing measures in place from 1 October. This uncertainty extends to traditional charity and sport focused events involving cycling, running, swimming and so on. 

Park Run and Small Events

Although the return of ‘mass scale’ remains a mystery, smaller events have a much clearer path ahead of them. An example of an industry leader in the space is Park Run, who is returning to their Saturday morning events in England as of October granting the groups of 6. 

Their COVID-19 Management System Framework describes the measures they are taking at their event. This includes the training they are giving their volunteers, the advanced registration system they are adopting for those taking part, set up, set down and arrivals and departures. 

The Financial Landscape

Amid that uncertainty, many event-organisers cannot realistically afford to plan sports events which involve mass gatherings and particularly given the paucity of their financial resources some five months into the Pandemic. No risks will be taken and spare financial resources will be channelled to those who need it most.

Permits and licensing prices have remained the same, although the time and admin cost in procuring them has increased. Nonetheless, small events' financial viability depends on the location of the sport and necessity for equipment in order to maintain groups of 6 from being exceeded in any one area. Fencing, tables, benches, marquees, separators of all kinds and PPE items are amongst some of the expenses which organisers may be increasing spending on, in order to host a safe event and convince authorities that they are indeed doing so. 

A cultural shift?

There is a concern that the UK’s wider society is becoming used to a Pandemic lifestyle that will not necessarily be easy to change. The government recognised this in the context of the hospitality sector encouraging the return to eating out at restaurants as part of the government’s ‘Eat Out to Help Out’ discount scheme. Event organisers will need to ensure their communications instil confidence in prospective participants that all relevant safety precautions will be taken during the applicable event, at a minimum in accordance with the latest government guidance, which is itself ever changing.

Embrace social distancing and the restrictions on mass gatherings

The concept of a socially distanced mass participation event may have seemed implausible a few months ago. However, as the impact of the Pandemic endures into the autumn, event-organisers will need to be creative and open-minded, even if it means restricting the total number of participants.

In terms of how this might work in practice, event-organisers could scale down on the administrative requirements by ensuring that certain pre-event formalities and briefings take place online. Participants might be instructed to arrive at pre-allocated registration times to avoid pre-event gatherings and unnecessary waiting periods. Races could transition into time trial formats with staggered starts to prevent gatherings and bottlenecks at various race stages, thus enabling participants to comply with social distancing except where there is overtaking. Events like triathlons could provide bigger transition spaces for participants, who may also be required to keep within certain race-lanes.

Alternatively, organisers might consider longer-term ‘series’ type events (as opposed to one-off mass participation sports events), staggering them throughout a day, weekend or across a number of race days to encourage and maintain high numbers of participants. To keep people interested in these longer-term formats, participants could be asked to log their times, scores or other deliverable – with organisers aggregating the results, posting some exciting digital content for consumers and unlocking further opportunities for people to get involved or donate to causes. Organisers may find the administration burden and cost of running events more manageable by grouping together with venue partners, sharing COVID-19 secured facilities.


The impact of the Pandemic on many event organisers is unfortunately existential. The government’s guidance on dealing with the Pandemic is ever changing, which adds to the difficulties faced in terms of effective event planning. New event formats, sharing of resources and facilities, extended event windows, virtual events and social media campaigns will all play their part in the new ticket selling and fundraising landscape to put on events which match or surpass the experience of those pre-pandemic.