Emily Bridges, trans cyclist, furious at ‘genocidal’ British Cycling after elite racing ban
Emily Bridges, a transgender cyclist, accused British Cycling of “genocide” in an astonishing attack after riders born male were banned from racing against women in British competitive events.
The governing body’s ruling effectively ends the chances of Bridges competing at the Olympic Games Paris next year as she will now have to race in an “open” category alongside men riders.
“Fairness is absolutely a driving factor,” British Cycling’s chief executive, Jon Dutton, said of the policy affecting only events deemed competitive by the governing body.
In contrast with complaints from Bridges, who has claimed she has no advantage over other women racers, some grass-roots riders protested that protections for women’s sport did not go far enough. Dutton had admitted non-competitive levels would continue to prioritise “inclusivity” over fairness.
However, the most outspoken attack came from the most prominent trans athlete in British sport. In a 651-word statement on her Instagram page, Bridges said British Cycling was guilty of a “violent act” and said it was a “failed organisation”.
She wrote: “Does it surprise me that the same organisation funded directly by a state that ships vulnerable refugees to Rwanda violently clamps down on any political dissent that they disapprove of, or starves their people? No, of course it doesn’t.
“The same organisation with actively homophobic coaches, who encouraged eating disorders and did nothing about any bullying between its riders. The same organisation where elite riders influence their policy when it doesn’t fit their entitled and narrow world view, with no ability for nuance or any desire to question the view that they’ve been told since birth.”
Despite her outburst, pressure will now intensify on the International Cycling Union (UCI) to follow suit with global rules. The conclusion of an international review into transgender athletes is expected in August.
Sharron Davies and other campaigners for better women’s sport said the domestic governing body deserved credit at elite level for adopting a similar policy to British Triathlon, which last year became the first British sport to confirm firmer protections.
However, Davies and grass-roots riders said the policy should have been extended to all levels. Any club event that is not deemed a registered race by British Cycling will continue to 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 explained. “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’.”
‘It’s impossible to find a genuinely female-only amateur competitive cycling event’
Maria Blower, who represented Great Britain when women cyclists were first permitted in the Olympics in 1984, said some volunteers for the event were now resigning over the policy. “We still want to regain the grass roots,” she said.
McInnes also attacked the lack of provision at grass-roots level. “It is impossible to find a genuinely female-only amateur competitive cycling event in the UK at the moment,” she said. “Breeze champions are put in the impossible position of policing this policy.”
Davies, Britain’s 1980 Olympic swimming silver medallist and a leading voice for protecting female categories in all sports, added that local women athletes were “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 would 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.”
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.
Elite men’s category will be consolidated into the ‘open’ category
“It’s an incredibly emotive and at times divisive subject area,” Dutton said 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; second, the medical research that is available at this point in time; and third, a legal viewpoint in terms of the association with the Equality Act. We’ve made a decision on the balance of all three to give clarity, to give direction and a clear way forward for any athletes.
“The key drivers for the two policies are – 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 this year. At elite levels, the implementation of an “open” category alongside a “female” category means the existing 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 calls for a rethink on international rules drafted 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 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.