Transgender cyclist Emily Bridges breaks silence to demand ‘urgent answers’ over racing ban

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Transgender cyclist Emily Bridges breaks silence to demand 'urgent answers' over racing ban

Transgender cyclist Emily Bridges breaks silence to demand ‘urgent answers’ over racing ban

Emily Bridges, the transgender cyclist who was blocked from racing against Laura Kenny in Saturday’s National Omnium Championships, has called for urgent answers from cycling’s governing bodies.

Speaking publicly for the first time since her entry was accepted and then abruptly refused on Wednesday night, Bridges said that she comfortably met the required testosterone levels and outlined her heartfelt desire to race. “No one should have to choose between being who they are, and participating in the sport that they love,” she said.

“I am an athlete and I just want to race competitively again, within the regulations set by British Cycling and UCI after careful consideration of the research around transgender athletes.

“I have provided both British Cycling and UCI with medical evidence that I meet the eligibility criteria for transgender female cyclists, including that my testosterone level has been far below the limit prescribed by the regulations for the last 12 months.

“I am in contact with British Cycling and UCI requesting clarity around my alleged ineligibility, and I hope that they will reconsider their decision in line with the regulations.”

Bridges, whose testosterone levels had fallen well below the 5nmol/L limit during the past year, was also left out of British Cycling’s squad for the Nations Cup on Friday after initially making the longlist.

It is understood that the UCI wants to refer Bridges’ case to an expert panel during a six-week window. The UCI have been separately speaking to other sports governing bodies about introducing new transgender guidance.

Bridges, who previously set national junior male records, finished second from last at the Welsh men’s road race championships last year after treatment to suppress her testosterone but won the men’s points race at the British Universities’ Championships in Glasgow in February. She also used her statement to criticise her treatment by sections of the media.

“I’ve been relentlessly harassed and demonised by those with a specific agenda to push,” said the 21-year-old. “I’ve had to deactivate my social media to prevent targeted abuse I am receiving, and block websites to stop seeing them. This is despite the fact I have not yet raced in the female category. I have been judged despite a total lack of evidence against me, purely because I am trans.”

The UCI was under mounting pressure on Friday night to provide evidence for its transgender policy and told that new rules should be based on more than simply testosterone.

Current guidelines state that trans women must have testosterone levels below 5nmol/L for at least a year, but the Union Cycliste Internationale are being challenged by women’s cyclists who, according to president David Lappertient, are “completely against” the current rules.

CPA Women, an association of professional cyclists headed by former women’s world champion Alessandra Cappellotto, said that it was for “fair and secure competition for all” but highlighted a lack of evidence to reassure cisgender women that they would not be disadvantaged. “To date, there is no research showing that trans women do not have a clear advantage over biological women in the female category,” said a statement, released to Telegraph Sport.

“We are in discussion with UCI, professors and researchers to find the answers suitable for everyone and give everyone the opportunity to do cycling, but in the most appropriate way and category.”

The statement also quoted research which says that trans women typically retain physical advantages over cisgender women even after 36 months.

‘Gender diverse athletes left in vulnerable position’

Joanne Harper, who is currently studying transgender athlete performance as part of three major research projects at Loughborough University, said that trans women maintained height and strength advantages even after suppressing testosterone but stressed that “the magnitude” of the advantage was unknown.

Height is especially relevant in swimming, where Lia Thomas last month became the first transgender athlete to win a US college women’s title.

Bridges has been part of Loughborough research which specifically measures changes in physiological performance after testosterone has been reduced. Bridges reported significant drops in her power output over the past year and told Cycling Weekly that the reduced testosterone did also impact on other performance determinants, which had dropped to female levels.

Dr Emma O’Donnell, a senior lecturer in exercise physiology at Loughborough and its primary investigator, said that testosterone was “an important parameter to consider”, given how it increases strength, power and speed but did not provide “the whole picture”.

Dr O’Donnell also highlighted the potential importance of prolonged exposure to testosterone prior to commencing gender affirming hormone therapy and said that this could not be completely mitigated.

This has also been argued by the sports scientist Dr Ross Tucker, who cautioned against moves to simply further reduce the testosterone threshold or increase the time period beyond a year. “There’s still little in the language being used by leaders to suggest that they understand that a choice has to be made,” he said. Dr Tucker is also an adviser to World Rugby who, on the basis of safety, has excluded transgender women from the women’s game.

The International Olympic Committee scrapped testosterone limits in its guidance to sports last year and said that it was instead down to individual governing bodies to set their own rules. They also highlighted the potentially “serious adverse” health impacts of requiring women to modify their hormone levels and said that sports should assume that trans athletes had no advantage, unless it was proved otherwise.

Dr Seema Patel, an expert in gender discrimination in sport and senior lecturer at Nottingham Law School, urged sports to also consider questions beyond simply the physiology of performance.

“The IOC have shifted the conversation, the guidance, to put gender equality, non-discrimination and inclusion first,” she said. “They’ve said there should be no presumption of advantage. Nobody is really listening to that. From a human rights point of view, the key point is that if they continue to impose regulations or polices that aren’t evidence-based, and aren’t founded on conclusive research, and instead founded on assumptions or presumptions then that is potential incompatible with human rights provisions because it has an exclusionary impact. As a result that could be discriminatory.

“There is a panic that is being created around performance and advantage, which is diverting attention from the human rights issues in this debate. This leaves minority groups such as gender diverse athletes in a vulnerable position. It can’t come from just science, it also has to be about law and human rights.”

The governing bodies in cycling, swimming and triathlon are all now reviewing their transgender guidance, with the UCI wanting decisions “within the next few months”. New rules could majorly impact on the chances of Bridges or Thomas from participating in future women’s competitions.