In a move that has sparked much debate, British Cycling has announced a significant shift in its policy regarding the participation of transgender and non-binary athletes. Following a comprehensive nine-month review, the organization has introduced a new categorization system, dividing competitive events into "female" and "open" divisions. This decision impacts all British Cycling-sanctioned competitive events and is in line with the policies of other British sporting bodies, such as UK Athletics and Swim England.
The reformed "female" category is now reserved for athletes assigned female at birth and transgender men who have not begun hormone therapy, while the "open" category accommodates male athletes, transgender women and men, as well as non-binary individuals and those assigned male at birth.
These changes have direct implications for transgender cyclist Emily Bridges, who had aspirations of competing in women's competitions. Bridges, who set a national junior men's record over 25 miles in 2018 and began hormone therapy in 2020, was barred from competing in her first women's event in Derby by the world governing body of cycling, the UCI, as she was still registered as a male cyclist.
The decision has been met with mixed responses. Some top female cyclists, who had previously threatened to boycott competitions, welcomed the new policy, citing concerns about fair competition. However, Bridges criticized the decision on Instagram, accusing British Cycling of failing to promote diversity and arguing that research related to transgender athletes wasn't being critically examined in the context of specific sports.
Jon Dutton, the CEO of British Cycling, has defended the new policy, stating that it aims to ensure both the fairness of competition and inclusivity for all riders. He acknowledged the emotive nature of the issue and the difficulty of the process, emphasizing the organization's commitment to supporting and showing compassion towards athletes affected by the policy change.
In contrast to the British Cycling policy, the current International Olympic Committee (IOC) regulations allow transgender women to compete in women's events at international levels, provided they lower their testosterone levels to a specific threshold for a period of 24 months. The UCI, cycling's global governing body, adheres to these regulations but is reportedly reviewing its policies following criticism after the victory of transgender woman Austin Killips in a UCI women's stage race.
British Cycling's new policy, which is expected to be fully implemented by the end of 2023, is one of the latest developments in a contentious and ongoing debate about the inclusion of transgender and non-binary athletes in sports.