British Cycling bars transgender women from competing in female category

  • Men’s division will become trans-inclusionary ‘open category’
  • Governing body apologises to trans riders for delay to new policy

British Cycling has become the latest governing body to bar transgender women from competing in the female category to “safeguard the fairness” of the sport. The decision, which ends the transgender cyclist Emily Bridges’s dreams of competing for Britain in the female category, followed a nine-month consultation and a review of the latest science.

Under the new rules, which were greeted with sharp criticism by Bridges, the men’s division will be replaced by an “open category” – which will now also include transgender men, transgender women and non-binary individuals. Meanwhile the “female category” for any form of competition from elite to grassroots will be preserved for those with a birth sex of female.

The new policy, which broadly follows that of UK Athletics and Swim England, will also apply to all British Cycling-sanctioned competitive events involving times, ranking, points or prizes, as well as selection decisions for the Great Britain cycling team.

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The news is likely to be widely welcomed by the country’s top female riders, many of whom threatened to boycott last year’s British National Omnium Championships until Bridges was declared ineligible by cycling’s world governing body, the UCI, from competing in the female category as she was still registered as a male cyclist at the time.

That boycott threat arose due to many believing that 22-year-old Bridges, who was on the Great Britain academy programme as a male rider until being dropped in 2020, retained an unfair advantage after transitioning.

Their viewpoint is now shared by British Cycling. In a statement explaining its change in policy, it cited research studies indicating that even with the suppression of testosterone, transgender women who transition post-puberty retain a performance advantage.

However it also pledged that trans and non-binary people would still continue to be able to participate in a broad range of activities under its new policy – including club and coach-led activities, community programmes, and non-competitive events such as sportives.

British Cycling’s CEO, Jon Dutton, said: “I am confident that we have developed policies that both safeguard the fairness of cyclesport competition, whilst ensuring all riders have opportunities to participate.”

The governing body also apologised to transgender athletes for taking so long to come up with a new policy after suspending its previous one last year, leaving riders including Bridges in limbo. “We recognise 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,” it added.

“Our aim in creating our policies has always been to advance and promote equality, diversity and inclusion, while at the same time prioritising fairness of competition. This aim has not changed.”

In a lengthy statement, Bridges, however, described the move as “a violent act” and accused British Cycling of being a “failed organisation”.

“British Cycling is a failed organisation, the racing scene is dying under your watch and all you do is take money from petrochemical companies and engage in culture wars,” she wrote. “I agree that there needs to be a nuanced policy discussion and continue to conduct research, but this hasn’t happened.

“Research isn’t being viewed critically, or any discussion about the relevance of the data to specific sports … I don’t even know if I want to race my bike anymore.”

British Cycling’s new policy has been announced a few weeks after the most recent flare-up in the sport’s contentious transgender debate when the American Austin Killips became the first transgender athlete to win a UCI women’s stage race.

Killips’s victory in New Mexico led the UCI to admit it had heard the “concerns” of female athletes about unfair competition in the sport, and would be reconsidering its transgender policy. Those critical of the UCI included the three-time Olympian Inga Thompson who accused it of “killing off women’s cycling”.

The UCI is expected to announce any changes to its policy in August. As things stand, however, transgender women are still eligible to compete in UCI international events provided they lower their testosterone to 2.5 nmol/l for 24 months.

It means that when it comes to UCI-organised events staged in Britain, such as the Track Nations Cup or the Women’s Tour, the current UCI transgender policy on eligibility will take precedence.


Sean Ingle

The GuardianTramp

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