Emily Bridges, the Welsh cyclist at the centre of British sport’s first major transgender row, is facing missing out on selection for the Commonwealth Games – even if she is cleared to compete in women’s races in the coming weeks.
The decision to block Bridges from taking on Dame Laura Kenny at Saturday’s National Omnium Championships – after her case was referred to an expert panel appointed by the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) – denied her a crucial opportunity to meet strict selection criteria for Birmingham 2022.
The 21-year-old faces a six-week wait before learning if she can switch from competing in men’s races, which would see her miss a deadline set by Welsh Cycling for her to be selected for this summer’s Games based on “performances in key events from 1 January 2021 through to 8 May 2022”.
Those events include the “national track championships” and “Nations Cup”, the latter of which Bridges will also miss this month.
She could still be selected for Birmingham 2022 under Commonwealth Games Wales rules that include the clause: “Consideration will be given by CGW to selecting a very limited number of exceptional individuals who will not be required to have met the qualification standards but who are identified and are agreed to be potential medal winners in the next Commonwealth Games.”
However, with Bridges facing being unable to compete in any women’s races before final selection decisions are made, picking her on that basis would be hard to justify.
Transgender cyclists are also facing the prospect of indefinite exclusion from elite competition under little-known guidance within the UCI’s rulebook.
Part 13 of its Medical Rules state that it 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 the UCI “wants its athletes to be incentivised 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 panel.
The 5nmol/L testosterone limits is also clearly laid out in the UCI’s rules, which was the key criteria for British Cycling in accepting her entry in the omnium race, but there is now a mounting feeling that the 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 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’.
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.