Emily Bridges, trans cyclist, furious at ‘genocidal’ British Cycling after elite racing ban
Some grass-roots riders warn the rules do not go far enough, however.
“Fairness is absolutely a driving factor,” said British Cycling’s chief executive Jon Dutton of the new policy, which governs events deemed competitive by the governing body. However there will be no protections at non-competitive levels where “inclusivity is absolutely the driving factor”, Dutton added.
Pressure will now intensify on the International Cycling Union (UCI) to follow suit with global rules, with the conclusion of its own review into transgender athletes expected in August.
'It's an outrage' say organisers of non-competitive rides
Effectively, any club event that is not deemed a registered race by British Cycling will allow trans women to cycle alongside females. Included in this category are the community-based British Cycling-sponsored Breeze women-only bike rides.
These rides were specifically set up as a sanctuary for women and Tessa McInnes, a lawyer and Breeze cyclist based in the West Midlands, expressed dismay that her event was not included.
“A lot of women are looking for Breeze rides because they have confidence issues and there can be a very macho culture in cycling,” she explains. “And then they turn up and find that there’s a biological male on the ride. The idea was ‘if you dare say anything, you are transphobic’.”
Corinne Kielty, a Breeze cyclist based in West Yorkshire, added: “Allowing trans women in just negates the whole principle of having a ‘women-only’ rule. It’s an outrage, frankly.”
Maria Blower, who represented Great Britain when women’s cyclists were first permitted in the Olympic Games in 1984, said some volunteers for the event were now resigning over the policy. “We still want to regain the grass roots," she said.
Sharron Davies, Britain’s 1980 Olympic swimming silver medallist and a leading voice for protecting female categories in all sports, also pointed out potential flaws at grass-roots level, saying local women athletes are “just as worthy as elite athletes to fair sport”.
Efforts were made overnight by British Cycling to contact Bridges and an estimated 10 transgender or non-binary UK athletes who could be affected by the rules.
“We appreciate this has been an incredibly difficult period,” Dutton told a press conference. “It’s caused anxiety, uncertainty and distress for many riders so we have a duty of care to support those people. But in making a decision, we want to give clarity and direction but also ensure that anyone that wants to take part in cycling has the ability to do so.”
As it stands, the rules internationally allow trans women to compete in women's categories if they have had reduced testosterone levels of 2.5 nanomoles per litre for the previous two years. However, last summer, British Cycling stopped transgender women competing at elite female events while it conducted a review of its existing testosterone-based policy.
“It’s an incredibly emotive and at times divisive subject area,” said Dutton as he announced plans for a permanent ban. “We have taken many months to look at probably three areas – first of all, consultation with athletes affected and the wider cycling community; secondly, the medical research that is available at this point in time; and thirdly, a legal viewpoint in terms of the association with the Equalities Act. We’ve made a decision on the balance of all three to give clarity, to give direction and that clear way forward for any athletes.
“The two key drivers for the two policies – on the competitive policy, fairness is absolutely a driving factor. On the noncompetitive policy inclusivity is absolutely the driving factor.”
British Cycling expects to have implemented both policies – for competitive and non-competitive events – by the end of 2023. At elite levels, the implementation of an "open" category alongside a "female" category means the current men’s category will be consolidated into the "open" category.
Policies in cycling, swimming and rowing in recent years have concerned campaigners most. Austin Killips’s first prize for women at the Tour of the Gila in New Mexico prompted immediate calls for a rethink on international rules drafted just last year.
Since the UCI’s previous trans policy based on testosterone levels was announced last year, swimming and athletics have effectively banned from women's elite competition any athletes who have gone through male puberty.
Last year, the Government told the heads of UK sporting bodies that “elite and competitive women’s sport must be reserved for people born of the female sex”.
Bridges – who set a national junior men’s record over 25 miles in 2018 – was blocked from participating in the women’s British National Omnium Championship last year after the UCI that ruled she was ineligible.
She had been due to compete against Laura Kenny, but the UCI ruled that the 21-year-old, who began hormone therapy last year to reduce her testosterone levels, was not compliant.
British Cycling’s nine-month policy review was led by an internal working group, made up of British Cycling, Scottish Cycling and Welsh Cycling.
“During these nine months, the working group undertook a targeted consultation consisting of 14 focus groups and a number of one-to-one interviews (including dedicated sessions for female Race Licence holders and trans and non-binary members),” a statement said.
Dutton added: “I am confident that we have developed policies that both safeguard the fairness of cyclesport competition, whilst ensuring all riders have opportunities to participate.”