The Memo: British Cycling the latest sporting body to ban transgender women from female events

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Trans participation in sport: British Cycling the latest sporting body to ban transgender women from female events

James Westmacott – 28 August 2023

British Cycling – the UK’s national governing body – recently followed the lead of UK Athletics and Swim England by taking the decision to ban transgender women from competing in female-category events, citing the ‘unfair advantage’ retained by riders who’ve transitioned from male to female post-puberty. With the women’s category of competitive cycling now reserved for those with a birth sex of female, a distinct ‘open category’ has been introduced to ensure than transgender men, transgender women, and non-binary athletes can still compete.

Welsh rider Emily Bridges is one of the most prominent transgender cyclists, and it’s clear that British Cycling’s ruling has had profound consequences on Bridges’ ambitions. Bridges had hoped to compete for Great Britain within the women’s classification at next summer’s Olympic Games in Paris, though the law change confirms her ineligibility to do so. Also unable to compete in the men’s category having undertaken years of hormone replacement therapy, Bridges’ body no longer possesses the testosterone processing ability to be competitive enough to qualify for a place on the men’s team.

But while the impact the move will have on individual riders is clear, how did we get here from a legal perspective? According to UK government legislation, Section 195 of the Equality Act 2010 confirms that it is in fact lawful to limit the sporting participation of transsexual athletes in cases of threats to ‘fair or safe competition’, which remains the justification that governing bodies use to enable them to make such rulings.

One of the complicated things about cases like this is that the case exposes the points of conflict between the Equality Act and the Gender Recognition Act 2004. Whilst the ban appears legal as per the former, the latter contrastingly states that any individual in possession of a gender recognition certificate must be treated as female under all circumstances, with, crucially, no exemption provided within the realm of sporting competition. It’s therefore clear that the law must become more lucid when it comes to transgender participation in sport, particularly as more and more sporting bodies are moving to restrict trans involvement in female-designated events.