Transgender cyclist Emily Bridges told she cannot race against Laura Kenny by sport’s world governing body

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Emily Bridges - Transgender cyclist Emily Bridges told she cannot race against Laura Kenny by sport's world governing body - FUTURE

Emily Bridges – Transgender cyclist Emily Bridges told she cannot race against Laura Kenny by sport’s world governing body – FUTURE

Emily Bridges, the transgender cyclist who had been due to compete in the National Omnium Championships on Saturday, has been forced to withdraw after being told that she does not meet cycling’s guidelines.

Bridges had been listed with Laura Kenny among the competitors to race in the women’s omnium but British Cycling released a statement on Wednesday evening to confirm that they had been told by the International Cycling Union (UCI) that she was ineligible.

The precise reasons were not given but, under UCI rules, an athlete must show that they have lowered their testosterone levels to below 5nmol/L during the past year.

In their statement, British Cycling confirmed that Bridges could not ride and called for a coalition across sports to help balance the competing priorities of inclusion and fairness in the guidance for transgender athletes.

“We believe that transgender and non-binary people should be able to find a home, feel welcome and included, and be celebrated in our sport,” said a British Cycling spokesperson. “Emily Bridges was due to participate in the British National Omnium Championships on Saturday. We have now been informed… that under their current guidelines Emily is not eligible to participate in this event. We have been in close discussions with the UCI regarding Emily’s participation this weekend and have also engaged closely with Emily and her family regarding her transition and involvement in elite competitions.

“We acknowledge the decision of the UCI with regards to Emily’s participation, however we fully recognise her disappointment with today’s decision. We believe all participants within our sport deserve more clarity and understanding around participation in elite competitions and we will continue to work with the UCI on both Emily’s case and the wider situation with regards to this issue.”

Bridges was part of the University of Nottingham men’s team that took bronze in the team pursuit at the British Universities’ Championships in March but has been undergoing hormone-suppression therapy.

In an interview with Cycling Weekly magazine earlier this month, Bridges said that her power had dropped by between 13 and 16 per cent across six-second, one-, five- and 20-minute efforts after lowering her testosterone to below 5nmol/L during the past year.

“I’m now trying to power a bigger frame but with a much reduced engine,” she said, in discussing how she had gone from one of Britain’s best young riders to finishing second last at the men’s Welsh National Championship road race in September. British Cycling’s transgender guidance had earlier been openly challenged in parliament on Wednesday following news that Bridges planned to race in her first women’s event on Saturday.

“What urgent conversations is the minister having with British Cycling to ensure that elite female athletes such as Dame Laura Kenny will not lose their places and have their records broken by British Cycling’s inability to echo section 195 of the 2010 Equality Act and implement the agreed guidance from the Sports Councils’ equality group on transgender inclusion in sport,” said Tonia Antoniazzi, a Labour MP.

That guidance, which was published last October, concluded that trans women do retain advantages in strength and stamina even after reducing their testosterone, but recommended that individual sports should balance competing priorities of inclusion, fairness and safety with bespoke guidance.

The International Olympic Committee has also outsourced decisions to individual governing bodies, with British Cycling currently following the UCI’s stance. Bridges’ planned participation had been the source of huge controversy, with middle-distance runner Ellie Baker becoming the first British international athlete to say that she would refuse to compete against a transgender athlete.

“Unfortunately in sport you can’t have blurred lines,” said Baker. “How this has been allowed to happen is just ridiculous. I would refuse to race and hope that the other women would stand with me on this too. This is totally unfair. The advantages a trans women has had from going through puberty as a boy to a man can never be undone.”

Sports minister Nigel Huddleston had earlier said that it was right for individual governing bodies to set their own rules so that the inherent differences between sports could be taken into account. “This is a sensitive area and one that needs a lot of care and love,” he said. “We need individual sports to take the lead in developing their own policy because an individual competing in, say, curling is different to an individual in boxing or weightlifting.

“The key thing is we want to encourage participation to the greatest extent possible, we want all sport to be inclusive, but it does need to be a level playing field. I think we will get to a reasonable point but it is going to be an uncomfortable journey.”

British Cycling has also denied suggestions that it has stopped riders from voicing their opinion on its policy. “Riders and other members of our community cannot face sanctions for expressing their opinions,” said a spokesperson. “We actively continue to seek a wide range of views and experiences on this vitally important matter. When sharing these views, we do however expect our members to adhere to our Code of Conduct, which is in place to ensure our sport remains free of verbal and physical abuse, intimidation and discrimination, and we take a zero-tolerance approach to any such instances.”