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.
The female category will be “for those whose sex was assigned female at birth”.
The changes will prevent rider Emily Bridges – the country’s highest-profile transgender cyclist – potentially being part of the British women’s team.
Last year she 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 organisation” 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 prioritising fairness of competition.
“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.”
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.
What’s the background?
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 demonised” 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”.
‘You have no right to tell me when I am done’ – Bridges
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 any more… but you have no right on telling me when I am done.”
‘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.”
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, sport should be more inclusive, with open categories criticised for being discriminatory.
British Cycling said its women-only community programme “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”.