British Cycling, the governing body for cycling in the UK, has announced a new policy that bars transgender women from competing in the female category. The decision aims to “safeguard the fairness” of the sport and follows a nine-month consultation and a review of the latest scientific research.
Transition to an Open Category
Under the new rules, the men’s division will be replaced by an “open category” that will include transgender men, transgender women, and non-binary individuals. The “female category,” on the other hand, will be preserved exclusively for individuals assigned female at birth. The policy aligns with similar guidelines implemented by UK Athletics and Swim England.
The new policy will apply to all British Cycling-sanctioned competitive events involving times, rankings, points, or prizes. It will also affect selection decisions for the Great Britain cycling team. The announcement is expected to be well-received by top female riders in the country, many of whom had threatened to boycott last year’s British National Omnium Championships until transgender cyclist Emily Bridges was declared ineligible to compete in the female category by the international cycling governing body, the UCI.
Concerns Over Fairness and Performance Advantage
The boycott threat stemmed from the belief held by many that Bridges, who had previously been part of the Great Britain academy programme as a male rider, maintained an unfair advantage after transitioning. British Cycling now shares this viewpoint. The organization referred to research studies indicating that even with the suppression of testosterone, transgender women who transition after puberty retain a performance advantage.
Despite the exclusion from competitive events, British Cycling has assured trans and non-binary individuals that they will still be able to participate in various activities under the new policy. This includes club- and coach-led activities, community programs, and non-competitive events such as sportives.
Apology and Recognition of Impact
British Cycling’s CEO, Jon Dutton, expressed confidence in the new policies, stating that they aim to both ensure fairness in competitive cycling and provide opportunities for all riders to participate. The governing body also acknowledged the delay in formulating the new policy, apologizing to transgender athletes for the uncertainty and upset caused by the suspension of the previous guidelines.
In response to the policy change, Emily Bridges, the transgender cyclist affected by the decision, expressed disappointment, describing it as “a violent act” and criticizing British Cycling as a “failed organization.” Bridges called for a more nuanced policy discussion and further research, raising concerns about the critical evaluation of research and its relevance to specific sports. The athlete also questioned her future in competitive cycling.
UCI’s Transgender Policy under Review
The announcement by British Cycling follows a recent controversy in the transgender debate within the sport. Austin Killips, an American cyclist, became the first transgender athlete to win a UCI women’s stage race, sparking concerns about fairness in competition. The UCI acknowledged the concerns raised by female athletes and announced a review of its transgender policy. As of now, transgender women remain eligible to compete in UCI international events if they meet certain testosterone requirements.
While British Cycling has implemented its new policy, the UCI is expected to announce any changes to its transgender policy in August. Until then, the current UCI guidelines regarding transgender eligibility will apply to UCI-organized events held in Britain, such as the Track Nations Cup or the Women’s Tour.