Emily Bridges’ aunt says banning transgender cyclist from competing for national title is ‘unfair’

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Emily Bridges' aunt says banning transgender cyclist from competing for national title is 'unfair' - FUTURE

Emily Bridges’ aunt says banning transgender cyclist from competing for national title is ‘unfair’ – FUTURE

The aunt of the transgender cyclist Emily Bridges has described the dramatic late intervention that stopped her niece from competing at Saturday’s national cycling championships as “unfair”.

Bridges previously set national junior records in men’s cycling but, having “falling out of love” with the sport and decided to come out as her “true self” in October 2020, gradually reignited her passion during recreational mountain bike rides in Wales.

The Union Cycliste Internationale’s policy stipulates that a transgender woman can compete in women’s races if their testosterone levels are below 5nmol/L for at least year but then unexpectedly ruled on Wednesday that she must first also confirm her eligibility to its expert panel.

This could take an additional six weeks, during which the UCI are separately speaking to other sports governing bodies about introducing new stricter rules for elite transgender participation.

“It’s a bit of a tough one,” said Emily’s aunt, Helen Bridges. “It is unfair but the others obviously think it’s unfair on them so it’s a very, very difficult situation. Maybe trans athletes should have their own class but I think they should be allowed to do it [compete in women’s sports].”

Helen added that her niece must have suffered a great deal of “stress” and be under considerable pressure. “I really do feel for Emily,” she said. “There’s a lot more to it given the amount of emotions she’s been through.”

In an interview with Cycling Weekly last month, Bridges outlined how she felt more tired and experienced a major loss in power while cycling after undergoing hormone-suppression therapy.

She finished second from last at the Welsh men’s road race championships last year but then won the men’s points race at the British Universities’ Championships in Glasgow in February.

Prominent female athletes in other sports have pointed to research last year by the UK Sports Councils which reported that transgender women do retain physical advantages even after reducing their testosterone.

‘A complex issue that isn’t just about one individual’

“Every human has the right to be who they want to be and the right to compete in sport,” said Laura Weightman, an Olympic middle-distance runner. “However, in sport for competition purposes we must have male and female categories based on biology. We need to protect the biological female category.

“The science guides this, years of male hormones give clear long term physiological advantages despite reducing testosterone to a lower levels. This is a complex issue that isn’t just about one individual.”

That sentiment was echoed by another runner Ellie Baker, who said that she would even boycott a race involving a transgender woman. Her stance was endorsed on Wednesday night by Olympic gold medallist Sally Gunnell. “Well said Ellie – us females past and present should stand together,” said Gunnell.

Dr Seema Patel, an expert in gender discrimination in sport senior lecturer at Nottingham Law School, warned that sports risked focussing “on the inconclusive science around performance and advantage” above human rights and the potential legal implications of excluding transgender women.

“Sports bodies need to wake up and address this or face legal consequences for their inability to adequately protect athletes rights,” she said.

The UCI’s intervention was also criticised by the LGBT rights organisation Stonewall.

“It is disappointing that the UCI have overruled British Cycling’s competition criteria, which Emily was in full compliance of,” said Liz Ward, the director of programmes. “British Cycling had already extensively consulted on their trans-inclusion policy. Our thoughts are with Emily who has trained hard and hasn’t been given a fair chance to compete in Saturday’s race.”

Sports Minister Nigel Huddleston said that sport must be a level playing field and warned of an “uncomfortable journey” ahead in striving to deliver inclusivity. He also said that it was for individual sports to decide their rules.

Ward highlighted the wider importance of grassroots participation. “While elite sport often dominates these discussions, it only makes up a tiny proportion of all sport played in the UK,” she said.

“We know that trans people are also under-represented in community sport and often feel excluded. Sport has the unique power to bring us together and it’s important that trans people have the opportunity to enjoy the benefits of sport without facing exclusion or abuse.”