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British Cycling Bans transgender women from competing in Female Category

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British Cycling is to ban transgender women from the female category of its competitions following a nine-month review and consultation.

Under a new participation policy that the governing body said was “predicated on fairness”, such athletes will compete in an ‘open category’ with men.

Female races will be “for those whose sex was assigned female at birth”.

The changes will prevent riders such as Emily Bridges from potentially being part of the British women’s team.

Last year Bridges – the country’s highest-profile transgender cyclist – was stopped from competing in her first elite women’s race by the UCI, cycling’s world federation, despite meeting the rules at the time.

Bridges reacted to the announcement with a statement on social media, calling the change a “violent act” by a “failed organization” that was “controlling” the conversation on transgender inclusion.

She added that the racing scene was “dying under its watch” and that British Cycling was engaged in “culture wars”.

British Cycling’s policy had allowed transgender women to take part in elite female events if they met testosterone-based regulations.

But with the governing body at the heart of the debate over balancing inclusion with fairness, its regulations were suspended amid mounting controversy about Bridges and a review was launched.

“Research studies indicate that even with the suppression of testosterone, transgender women who transition post-puberty retain a performance advantage,” said British Cycling.

“Our aim in creating our policies has always been to advance and promote equality, diversity, and inclusion, while at the same time prioritizing fairness of competition.

“We recognize the impact the suspension of our policy has had on trans and non-binary people, and we are sorry for the uncertainty and upset that many have felt during this period.”

Transgender women will be able to participate in non-competitive recreational and community cycling without restriction.

The new policies will be implemented by the end of the year.

‘You have no right to tell me when I am done – Bridges response

In her statement, Bridges was critical of the state of British Cycling and its treatment of transgender riders.

“Cycling is still one of the whitest, straightest sports out there and you couldn’t care less,” she said. “I agree there needs to be a nuanced policy discussion and continue to conduct research. This hasn’t happened.

“Research isn’t being viewed critically, or any discussion about the relevance of the data to specific sports.

“I’ve given my body up to science for the last two years, and this data will be out soon.

“There is actual, relevant data coming soon and discussions need to be had.”

Bridges claimed discussion of the debate is “inherently political” and “framed by the media who are driven through engagement by hate”, saying she was “terrified to exist”.

She added: “I know a lot of people will think I’m being dramatic, or overplaying how scary things are at the moment. I don’t even know if I want to race my bike anymore… but you have no right on telling me when I am done.”

What’s the background?

British Cycling Bans transgender women from competing in Female Category
Emily Bridges previously set a national junior men’s record over 25 miles and was selected to join British Cycling’s senior academy in 2019

Having been a highly promising competitor in junior men’s events, Bridges came out as transgender in 2020, starting hormone therapy as part of her gender dysphoria treatment.

She then became eligible to compete in elite women’s events under British Cycling’s transgender regulations, which required riders to have had testosterone levels below five nanomoles per litre for a 12-month period prior to competition.

But days before the 2022 National Omnium Championships, the UCI said Bridges’ participation could only be allowed once her eligibility to race in international competitions was confirmed, dashing her hopes of competing for Wales in the Commonwealth Games.

A group of elite female cyclists called on the UCI to “rescind” its rules around transgender participation, claiming female athletes in the UK were “willing to boycott” events over their “concerns about fairness in their sport”.

Bridges said she felt “harassed and demonized” and had “little clarity” on her eligibility. She added that she “does not have any advantage” over her competitors, and could prove it with data.

While British Cycling suspended its rules, the UCI then toughened its regulations, doubling the qualification period to two years and lowering the required testosterone threshold for transgender women riders to 2.5nmol/L.

But this month, after Austin Killips became the first transgender woman to win a UCI women’s stage race at the Tour of the Gila, the world governing body re-opened consultation on the issue, saying it “hears the voices of female athletes and their concerns about an equal playing field for competitors”.

‘Paucity of research’ – British Cycling boss

“We acknowledge the paucity of research at this time, but can only look at what’s available to use,” said British Cycling chief executive Jon Dutton.

“I am confident that we have developed policies that both safeguard the fairness of cycle-sport competition, whilst ensuring all riders have opportunities to participate.

“We have always been very clear that this is a challenge far greater than one sport. We remain committed to listening to our communities, to monitor changes in the scientific and policy landscape, to ensure that sport is inclusive for all.”

Fiona McAnena from Fair Play For Women told BBC Radio 4’s World at One she was “concerned about all the women and girls who need to know that sport will be fair so I think an open category is a great solution because it doesn’t negate anyone’s identity…[and] the female category can be protected.”

“We’re finally reverting to fairness. We are going to see it across all sports.”

However Joanna Harper – a sports scientist who studies the effects of transition on transgender athletes – said she was “disappointed but not surprised”.

“I don’t think it’s necessary,” she told BBC Radio 5Live. “Trans women have been competing in cycling for many years…and although they have achieved some success in the sport, they are under-represented and are not anywhere near taking over the sport.”

In March, UK Athletics also banned transgender women from competing in the female category in its competitions and events. There have been similar moves in swimming, triathlon and both codes of rugby.

A number of studies have suggested transgender women retain cardiovascular and strength advantages compared to female athletes, even after taking testosterone-suppressing hormones.

Critics of transgender athletes’ participation in some women’s sports argue that gives them a disproportionate advantage over their peers and limits opportunities for their rivals.

However, others argue there is not enough detailed research in the area, that the science is not clear, and that with very few elite transgender athletes, sports should be more inclusive, with open categories criticized for being discriminatory.

British Cycling said its women-only community program “will continue to remain open and inclusive for transgender women and non-binary people” who can “continue to participate in a broad range of British Cycling activities in line with their gender identities”.

‘One of the whitest, straightest sports’

Trans cyclist Emily Bridges took to Instagram to describe the decision as a “violent act” and blasted British Cycling as a “failed organisation”. 

“The racing scene is dying under your watch,” she said, “and all you do is take money from petrochemical companies and engage in culture wars. 

“You don’t care about making sport more diverse, you want to make yourself look better and you’re even failing at that. 

“Cycling is still one of the whitest, straightest sports out there, and you couldn’t care less.” 

She continued by adding that she agrees there should be “nuanced policy” but says, in her view, this has not happened. 

“Research isn’t being viewed critically, or any discussion about the relevance of the data to specific sports. 

“Any discussion is inherently political and driven by bad faith actors, and the whole discussion is framed by the media who are driven through engagement by hate funding from far-right ultra capitalists,” she wrote. 

The cyclist concluded her statement by stating that she is having to consider her “exit from this terrible island” and does not even know if she wants to race anymore.

“The danger and everything that would come with racing makes it a pretty hard thing to justify to myself,” she added. 

British Cycling Bans transgender women from competing in Female Category

In a press release issued by British Cycling, CEO Jon Dutton said the new policies are the result of a “robust nine-month review process” which he understands has a “very real-world impact” on the cycling community. 

“We understand that this will be particularly difficult for many of our trans and non-binary riders, and our commitment to them today is twofold,” Dutton said. 

“First, we will continue to assess our policy annually and more frequently as the medical science develops, and will continue to invite those impacted to be an integral part of those conversations. 

“Second, we will also continue to ensure that our non-competitive activities provide a positive and welcoming environment, where everyone can feel like they belong and are respected in our community, and take action to eradicate discrimination from the sport.” 

The CEO continued by saying he is “confident” British Cycling has developed policies that both “safeguard the fairness of cycle sport competition” and ensure all riders have “opportunities to participate”.

He added: “We have always been very clear that this is a challenge far greater than one sport. 

“We remain committed to listening to our communities and working with our fellow sporting bodies to monitor changes in the scientific and policy landscape, to ensure that sport is inclusive for all. 

“We have been open and transparent with the UCI on our decision and will work collaboratively with them to ensure a seamless implementation over the coming months.”

The nine-month policy review was led by an internal working group, which comprised of people from across British Cycling, Scottish Cycling, and Welsh Cycling. As well as this, a working group undertook a targeted consultation with 14 focus groups and carried out a number of one-on-one interviews, which included sessions with cis, trans and non-binary riders.

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