Transgender rider Emily Bridges ready to take British Cycling ban to European Court of Human Rights

Emily Bridges
Emily Bridges has accused British Cycling of violating her human rights - INSTAGRAM

Emily Bridges is ready to go to the European Court in Strasbourg after accusing British Cycling of violating her human rights by banning transgender cyclists from female competition.

Cycling governing bodies both domestically and internationally ruled last year that transgender women who were born male could no longer compete in the female category regardless of their testosterone levels.

Bridges had met the previous rules over testosterone suppression following her transition but was stopped from competing on the eve of the national track cycling championships in 2022 ahead of a sudden review of transgender policies.

These were then updated last year and, in an interview with ITV, Bridges admitted that she had lost hope of competing again at an elite level but wanted to challenge the ruling for future generations by taking her fight to the European Court of Human Rights.

“I don’t care if I never compete again – it’s for other people who want to compete and it’s just about what’s right,” she said. “How many of those studies are done on athletes? I have been part of a study, and there is very clear data, and the data will be coming out soon.”

That is in reference to ongoing research at the University of Loughborough which, according to Bridges, will show that she does not have an unfair advantage against riders who were born female.

Her potential competitors at the British Championships in 2022, however, were sufficiently concerned by her entry in the women’s omnium event ahead of the Commonwealth Games to discuss a boycott if she was permitted to compete.

The Equality and Human Rights Commission has advised governing bodies that there is a ‘sporting exemption’ in the domestic Equality Act and that it is “therefore likely to be lawful” to introduce policies which preserve female sport for natal girls and women for evidenced reasons of fairness or safety.

The UK’s Sports Councils also say that transgender inclusion, fairness and safety in gender-affected sport cannot be balanced where there is meaningful competition

Governing bodies across sports have increasingly moved to policies which preclude transgender athletes from elite female competition, either if they were born male or have gone through male puberty, but there is also a debate now raging about whether this should apply across all grassroots sports activity.

‘It’s not safe’

British Cycling rules would still allow Bridges to compete in an ‘open’ category alongside other transgender women, transgender men, and athletes born male, but Bridges does not think that that is a fair option.

“Would it be safe for me to compete in an open category?” she said. “I have a past in cycling so I have previous results, people know me. But, for another trans woman, who hasn’t competed in the past, if she is trans but is seen by the world as a cis woman, how is it fair to ask her to out herself and compete in an open category? That’s not fair. It’s not safe either. You can say you can compete in the open category, but we’re women – we should be able to race in the women’s category.”

Bridges was previously a national junior record holder in the men’s category, but on her chances of competing again at an elite level she said: “It’s a completely different world now. It’s not really something I allow myself to think about too much just because that part of my life is gone now, and it’s not something I really want to do anymore. I don’t really have a choice. I can’t compete… I can’t do something I used to love.”

She also believes that the changes in sports policies have “normalised the exclusion of trans people from public life” and says that it is an “incredibly scary” time to be transgender in the UK.

Jon Dutton, the chief executive of British Cycling, said that the new transgender policy followed a “robust” nine-month review. “We will continue to assess our policy annually and more frequently as the medical science develops, and will continue to invite those impacted to be an integral part of those conversations,” he said. “We will also continue to ensure that our non-competitive activities provide a positive and welcoming environment, where everyone can feel like they belong and are respected in our community, and take action to eradicate discrimination from the sport.

“I am confident that we have developed policies that both safeguard the fairness of cyclesport 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.”