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IS BRITISH CYCLING IDEOLOGICALLY CAPTURED OR MERELY INCOMPETENT?
The cliché used to be that a week is a long time in politics, but sport has been giving politics a run for its money over the past few days. There is something in the water – and on the track too, it
FINA, the world governing body for swimming, has effectively banned biologically male athletes who ‘identify’ as women from competing in female categories. The IRL has followed suit in international rugby league events and Sebastian Coe has gone public with his view that athletics may well do the same. All of these announcements have been received with much acclaim from those who have been fighting for fairness in women’s sport. Trans lobbyists, on the other hand, have complained about transphobia and the ‘exclusion’ from sport of trans individuals. Of course, these decisions do not exclude anyone from participating, they merely re-affirm the need for sex-based categories in the relevant sports in order to preserve the integrity of female competition and the safety of women. Arguably, given that these policy amendments only apply to elite level competitions, there is much left to do.
Will British Cycling fall into line with the approach taken by FINA or will it meekly adopt the UCI’s new compromise? Might it even have a knee-jerk reaction and take a leaf out of FIFA’s book and remove any sort of restrictions to trans inclusion completely?
British Cycling has consistently been in the news recently as a result of its policy on the inclusion of transgender athletes. Readers may recall that a furore erupted when it was reported in March this year that a transgender athlete, Emily Bridges (an intact biological male who now ‘identifies’ as a woman), was going to be allowed to compete in the British National Omnium Championships in the female category. As a result of the consequent controversy, British Cycling barred Bridges from competing in that specific competition.
That decision, clearly, was not one they wanted to make, as is obvious from the tone of the statement they issued on the subject, but was forced upon them by the international governing body (the UCI) because, as it transpired, Bridges was still registered as a male athlete. In the statement, released on March 30th, British Cycling called for wide consultation on the issue. I obliged them by sending an email to their compliance team, the transcript of which can be found below. In it I raised a number of serious concerns about their policy document. Whilst I received an acknowledgment of my email no substantive reply was forthcoming.
However, British Cycling then produced a further statement on April 8th stating that it had suspended its transgender inclusion policy pending a full formal review. This statement referred specifically to the guidance issued by the Sports Council’s Equality Group, a document that I quoted in detail in my email, and I felt suitably encouraged. Whilst I knew full well that my contribution will have made no impact, at least this statement gave an indication that British Cycling was aware of the divergence between its policy and the guidance. This gave the appearance of progress.
Alas, it seems that my optimism was premature. I should have known better. Despite publicly stating that it had suspended its inclusion policy, transgender athletes have been allowed to continue to compete. As is reported in this article in The Times, a transgender athlete, Maxine Yates (whose ‘gender’ is recorded as female on the British Cycling website), took part in British Cycling’s downhill event held at Fort William on May 8th. Yates came first in the senior women’s over 19 category. Perhaps unsurprisingly, after that win Yates lead the national rankings on British Cycling’s website. The woman who came second, Jane Page, has complained to British Cycling that they have failed to apply their own policy and is seeking that Yates be disqualified. I understand that an investigation is being undertaken.
The article states that this is not the only example of the continued participation of trans cyclists in events under British Cycling’s umbrella. Perhaps the most interesting point raised, however, is that The Times reports that Yates claims to have sought clarification in advance from British Cycling about participating in this event and was told that the new policy ‘only applied to new licence applicants’, meaning that Yates, who already possesses a licence and ‘was not competing at an elite level’, was free to continue competing. If this report is accurate then it calls into question the integrity of those responsible for implementing British Cycling’s current policy and the organisations commitment to open debate. The April 8th statement makes no reference to the policy being suspended only in relation to new licence applicants nor in respect of elite competitions only. One could be forgiven for theorising that British Cycling had concluded that it would not be subjected to further detailed scrutiny once it had issued its statement and that it could carry on ‘as normal’. Perhaps it thought it would receive complaints from transgender ideologues if it actually implemented its new position and opted to avoid that possibility. After all, the trans lobby has hardly been backward it its denunciation of individuals and organisations that it considers to have acted in a ‘transphobic’ manner.
If this is the explanation for British Cycling’s failure to implement its own policy (because surely it cannot be plain incompetence, can it?) then it has badly misread the current climate. Women are coming forward in growing numbers to defend their right to enjoy fair competition and this opposition to unfair inclusion policies is only going to grow as the bullying by the ideologues and the abject surrender of governing bodies are scrutinised more closely. British Cycling has seemingly allowed itself to be captured by an ideology that has no basis in scientific reality and has been running scared from the trans lobby for fear of being vilified and called ‘transphobic’. A failure to realign will, in fact, lead to British Cycling, and other similarly afflicted sporting authorities, being called out by a much bigger and ultimately more powerful group, women. The tide is already turning, as can be seen from this week’s events.
Sadly, other UK cycling organisations are similarly afflicted. CTT, which is responsible for the organisation of cycling time trials also has a ‘trans inclusion’ policy. It claims to put into effect the aforementioned Equality group’s inclusion guidance with respect to ‘non-contact’ sport. However, the Group’s new guidance refers specifically to ‘gender-affected sport’ of which cycling is, quite categorically, a major one. Under its current rules, Lilly Chant, another fully intact biological male ‘trans-identified’ athlete participated in, and won, a time trial held by Bournemouth Arrow Cycling Club on April 15th. This was two weeks after the Bridges furore, a week after British Cycling’s decision to suspend its inclusion policy and a full six months after the guidance issued by the Sports Council. I wrote to the race organiser and the governing body seeking clarification. CTT has failed to respond. The local organiser confirmed that after Chant won the race the national and regional bodies were contacted and both said Chant had been eligible to compete. As a sport, cycling has lost its way.
The primary evidence for this can be found in the announcement on June 16 by the world governing body, the UCI, confirming the outcome of the review of its transgender inclusion policy. Up until the past few days, with the notable exception of World Rugby, sports international governing bodies had been content to ignore the very clear science relating to the retained competitive advantage that flows from going through male puberty and focus on testosterone suppression as a means of promoting transgender inclusion. The Uk’s Sports Council’s Equality Group issued revised guidance on this in September 2021 making it absolutely plain (following a comprehensive review of the science) that fairness in female sport cannot be achieved by a regime of testosterone suppression. Generally, that guidance has been ignored but can that remain the case now that FINA, using the same science, has taken the steps it has?
British Cycling has the chance to be a true pioneer for fairness in the UK by stepping back from its ‘inclusion at any cost’ approach and developing a new policy that both centres natal women and provides an opportunity for trans athletes to continue competing. In order to do so it has to recognise that the solution is not to include trans women in female only categories but to find a truly innovative solution. All governing bodies must accept that women’s sport is not a dumping ground for mediocre or failed male athletes, whatever the reason for their choice to ‘identify’ as women and that affirming the scientific lies of gender identity dogma is not ‘kind’ but corrosive.
Transcript of my email to British Cycling sent on 2nd April 2022
I have just read your statement relating to the decision of the UCI to bar transgender athlete Emily Bridges from competing in this weekend’s British National Omnium Championships. As you have called for the widest possible consultation on this issue, I thought it might be helpful for you to receive a contribution from an ordinary member of the public in the spirit of open debate and discussion implied within your public statement.
It is obvious that British Cycling was expecting that Emily Bridges would be allowed to compete this weekend in accordance with your own rules. The tone of the statement makes it clear that you are both frustrated and disappointed at the decision made by the UCI, as you emphasise that facilitating Emily Bridges’ participation has been a focus of your organisation for some time. As I understand it, the UCI decision was based on the fact that Emily Bridges’ registration is as a male athlete rather than because of any specific failure to meet other guidelines. As an initial point, if seems incredible to me, given the fact that you have a legal and compliance team, that no one seems to have picked up on this obvious difficulty beforehand. Perhaps if your approach had been more nuanced, rather than weighted heavily towards an ‘inclusive’ mindset (as it clearly is) then this particular problem could have been foreseen.
I say this because your statement emphasises your desire to be inclusive of transgender participants even to the extent of ‘celebrating’ it. ‘Celebrating’ the inclusion of transgender individuals is terminology lifted directly from the activists’ handbook and gives your statement the feel of being propagandist in favour of one side in this complex debate. Contrast this with your brief mention of the issue of fairness, which appears to be both grudging and contextualised by a reference to the need for further research in this area. Your statement is, on the face of it, little more than a plea not to be blamed for this athlete’s exclusion from one of your competitions coupled with a call for better research, as if there may be something that might suddenly change the basic facts relating to fairness and the participation of trans women in female-only sporting competitions.
It seems that British Cycling would do well to reassess its own policy position within the context of the available current evidence before troubling itself with speculating about what future research may produce. The following points spring to mind.
Transgender individuals are entitled to be treated with dignity and respect and have their lawful rights appropriately acknowledged and complied with. As well as being the human thing to do, this has been a legal requirement since the introduction of the Equality Act 2010. Indeed, it is generally unlawful to discriminate against transgender people, who are in a protected category under the legislation. Far from lacking specific rights theirs are exactly the same os any other group of individuals who might fall within one of the protected categories in the Act. No one is seeking to deprive any trans person of their rights. To claim otherwise, as many trans activists do, is a posturing political point.
Of course, ‘rights’ are an awkward thing because often the rights of one group conflict with those of another. This is reflected in the Equality Act specifically in relation to the participation of transgender individuals in gender-related activities such as sporting competitions. In essence, it is not unlawful to exclude transgender individuals from competitive sport for the sake of ensuring fairness or safety. The fact that British Cycling’s policy on transgender participation in racing (as opposed to purely recreational cycling) seems to ignore the concept of fairness is, perhaps, the first thing that needs addressing. The very idea that it is sufficient for a trans woman athlete to produce evidence of reduced testosterone levels in order to facilitate participation in women’s competitions is clear evidence that your organisation has favoured the concept of inclusion to the detriment of the integrity of sporting competition.
Whilst many will welcome your suggestion that there needs to be greater coordination between the sporting authorities, as well as your call for further research, both might be seen as a smokescreen. In reality, there is ample evidence in this area already and it is extremely unlikely that any further research will lead to any other conclusion than that trans women who have been through male puberty will retain significant performance advantages over natal women due to androgenisation. Furthermore, placing testosterone limits on trans women is clearly not sufficient to compensate for this advantage; the current figure for British Cycling is approximately three times the level of testosterone than the average female competitor, so even if male puberty did not lead to retained advantages, you rules are still inadequate. Testosterone level control and monitoring is not the answer, even if the permitted level is further reduced or the length of time that compliance is required for is extended. It is, in reality, merely a ruse to give the impression of fairness whilst slavishly promoting inclusion at all costs.
How is it possible to be so clear about this? Because the five UK Sports Councils have already done this research and published guidelines as recently as September 2021. These are readily available online on the website of the Sports Councils Equality Group. This excellent document contains ten guiding principles in relation to transgender participation in domestic sport, which arise from a comprehensive review of the available evidence. The highlights of those principles are numbers two, four, five and six.
2. Categorisation within the sex binary is and remains the most useful and functional division relative to sporting performance.
4. Competitive fairness cannot be reconciled with self-identification into the female category in gender affected sport.
5. Based upon current evidence, testosterone suppression is unlikely to guarantee fairness between transgender women and natal women in gender affected sports.
6. ‘Case by case’ assessment is unlikely to be practical nor verifiable in gender affected sports.
These conclusions are very clear and reflect not only the available scientific data but also common sense. The fact that British Cycling has not adopted these principles in full demonstrates that the conclusion I drew earlier, that you have prioritised inclusion over fairness, was entirely accurate.
The guidance document goes on to discuss various alternative models that could be adopted as part of the way forward. One of the options is to prioritise transgender inclusion (which seems to be the model that British Cycling has de facto adopted). However, the guidance makes it clear that, ‘No current method of inclusion for transgender people can guarantee fairness for the female category’. It goes on to state that, ‘This option is considered appropriate for a sport which has determined that inclusion rather than fairness is the objective of the category’. British Cycling, it would appear, has indeed made the determination that inclusion is the priority over fairness. The inescapable conclusion is that this must have been by choice and that you have been captured by the ideological propaganda of a small number of very vocal activists. As a result, your current policy actively harms natal women by ignoring their sex-based right to fair competition and, by so doing, completely undermines the integrity of competitive cycling.
I would therefore invite British Cycling to become a pioneer in this area. Stop listening to propaganda, really take on board the actual scientific data and prioritise fair competition for natal women. Rather than promoting inclusion at all costs until additional scientific evidence is available, apply the guidelines referred to above, safeguard the competitive integrity of your sport and exclude all trans women from female competition until the scientific evidence changes.