Transgender cyclists are facing the prospect of indefinite exclusion from elite competition under little-known guidance within the world governing body’s rulebook.
The Union Cycliste Internationale this week blocked the Welsh transgender cyclist Emily Bridges from potentially racing Dame Laura Kenny in Saturday’s National Women’s Omnium Championships and senior figures in cycling now believe that its Medical Rules, which were updated in 2020, contain several highly relevant statements.
Specifically, it is stated in Part 13 that the UCI must “guarantee fair and meaningful competition that displays and rewards the fundamental values and meaning of the sport”.
The introduction to the section titled “eligibility regulations” also stresses that it “wants its athletes to be incentivized to make the huge commitments required to excel in the sport”.
Bridges believed that she had met all relevant criteria to compete, notably that her testosterone was below 5nmol/L for at least a year, but her case has been referred to a UCI-appointed ‘expert panel’.
The 5nmol/L testosterone limits is also clearly laid out in the UCI’s rules, which were the key criteria for British Cycling in accepting her entry into the omnium race, but there is now a mounting feeling that the ‘expert panel’ could have additional discretion .
Any attempt to indefinitely block transgender cyclists even after they have met the testosterone threshold could still face its own legal challenge but there is currently also an urgent wider push by governing bodies in cycling, swimming and triathlon to formulate new transgender guidance.
Kenny pulled out of Saturday’s omnium after feeling ill following her victory in Friday night’s Madison race with Neah Evans but had already indicated that she did not want to speak publicly about the issue. There had been discussions among the women’s riders about taking action if Bridges had been permitted to race. There is considerable concern over the physical advantages that transgender athletes may still possess even after suppressing their testosterone but riders also fear that they will be perceived as transphobic if they do speak out.
British Cycling are ready to select Bridges, or any other transgender athlete who is cleared by the UCI, according to their usual performance criteria. Indeed, they had selected her in a provisional squad for the Nations Cup later this month on the basis that she could have accumulated sufficient UCI points by the time of that race.
Stephen Parks, British Cycling’s performance director, said that transgender guidance was the “single biggest issue for Olympic sport”. He added: “It’s important to have the discussion and to understand the challenges it [sport] faces.” There was a small protest by three local women inside the Derby Arena on Saturday with banners saying, ‘Save Women’s Sport – Woman = adult human female’.
“We are just local, grassroots friends,” said Jane, who has two daughters. “I am just really happy to be able to do something physical and be here to support women in their right to have single sex sports. It is very frustrating, particularly for those of us who have daughters who are interested in sport. It’s just not fair. Women have had to fight to get sporting categories.” Faye, who has three daughters, said that it would be “devastating” if her children were disadvantaged in the future. “People find it hard to speak up,” she said. “I just feel like I really want to do something and say something.” Elizabeth, who has two daughters, said that they were “normal women getting angry” and that “every person I have spoken to thinks it is wrong”.
The women stressed that their frustrations were not about Bridges personally but at sports governing bodies.
Bridges released a statement on Friday in which she called for answers from the UCI and said that she had been “relentlessly harassed and demonised” by people with an agenda. It is understood that safeguarding representatives from British Cycling and Welsh Cycling have been in regular contact with her. The Cyclists’ Alliance (TCA), a body that represents women’s cyclists, also offered their support but were critical of the UCI’s current rules. “We will support and treat Emily Bridges with the kindness, dignity and respect that she deserves as a person,” said a spokesperson. “We agree with [UCI president] David Lappartient’s statement that existing UCI transgender guidelines are insufficient and need to be addressed.
“We believe that the UCI and British Cycling have demonstrated unfairness by not adhering to their own eligibility criteria set and ask for transparent clarification to be given to Emily Bridges on their decision.”
In the absence of both Kenny and Bridges, the women’s omnium was won by Sophie Lewis, with Neah Evans and Maddie Leech respectively second and third. All three declined to talk about the UCI’s transgender guidance.