More than 90 per cent of the women’s professional cycling peloton are opposed to racing against transgender women, according to a survey by a leading riders’ union. The Cyclistes Professionnels Associes represents men’s and women’s riders and had canvassed the views of its female members earlier this year before making representations to the sport’s governing body, the UCI, which now intends to review its rules on trans competitors.
“The CPA women ran a survey a few months ago and over 92 per cent did not agree with trans athletes racing in the women’s peloton,” said Marion Clignet, the triple world champion who is part of a group which wrote to the UCI last week calling for its guidance to be rescinded. The UCI’s medical rules permit a transgender woman to race in the women’s category if she has reduced her testosterone to below 5 nmol/L for at least 12 months. These rules were followed by the Welsh transgender cyclist, Emily Bridges, but her entry for the national track championships was blocked by the UCI, pending the decision of an expert panel, before British Cycling also announced a review of its rules.
The letter, signed by British Cycling’s head of Olympic and Paralympic programmes Sara Symington, said British riders were ready to stage a boycott over the rules. Clignet said her group was “for the inclusion of transgender athletes in cycling without compromising equality in women’s cycling”. She said: “This does not mean the women don’t believe there should be inclusion for trans athletes in cycling – we just want to keep the promise of fair and safe cycling to women alive and well.”
Crisis talks have been held with the UCI, whose president, David Lappartient, has suggested that the current rules might need to include a further reduction in the testosterone threshold. Prime Minister Boris Johnson also entered the debate last week by calling for a ban of transgender women in women’s sport. The International Olympic Committee and the UK Sports Councils have both advocated sport-specific guidance in recognition of the major differences between sports. Legal experts have also stressed the need to widen the debate to questions of human rights.
“The debate has taken a political turn and it is a little precarious for those in power to make such a broad statement of opinion,” said Dr Seema Patel, a senior lecturer at Nottingham Law School, “This is not a simple scientific debate, even the notions of biological male and biological female are far more complex than the public would expect them to be. There is a conflict between the legal recognition of a trans female individual and their current treatment in sport.
“If the Government wish to engage and intervene in this issue, it is necessary to consult the views of all stakeholders. The human rights of both cis female and trans female athletes are equally important, and they should not be pitted against each other. The law has a critical role to play in sport regulation, particularly when human rights and athletes rights are at stake.”
The UCI is expected to issue a further public update shortly. Its expert panel had up to six weeks to consider Bridges’ case, but Lappartient has also called on summer Olympic sports to work collectively towards more universal guidance. The governing bodies of swimming and triathlon are reviewing their rules, while Jurgen Steinacker, the chair of World Rowing’s Sport Medicine Commission, has described the current situation as “mess”. His feedback is that there is also significant opposition in his sport to transgender women competing in women’s events.
“Elite sport cannot be inclusive without compromising the rights of women to stand a fair chance of competing for medals,” he said. It has, however, been pointed out that no transgender woman has won a major global competition. Bridges finished second from last at the 2021 Welsh men’s road race championships after treatment to suppress testosterone but won the men’s points race at the British Universities’ Championships in February.
She reported significant drops in her power output and said the reduced testosterone impacted on other performance determinants. Dr Emma O’Donnell, a senior lecturer at Loughborough University, said testosterone was “an important parameter to consider” but did not provide “the whole picture”.