Trans cyclist Emily Bridges barred from major championship in last-minute U-turn

Cyclist Emily Bridges wears a trans flag around her shoulders as she sits behind a bicycle

Trans cyclist Emily Bridges has been blocked from participating in the women’s British National Omnium Championships after the world governing body of cycling ruled her ineligible. 

Bridges came out publicly as trans in October 2020, and she raced against men last year as British Cycling’s policy stipulates that trans cyclists must meet a certain testosterone level for at least 12 months before they can compete in the female race category.

As a result, Bridges, 21, was only able to compete in a women’s event for the first time this year. She was set to race at the women’s British National Omnium Championships on Saturday (2 April), where she would have competed against some of the top names in the sport. 

But British Cycling released a statement on Wednesday (30 March) announcing that the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) – the sport’s world governing body – has ruled that Bridges cannot compete “under their current guidelines”.

The statement offered no further details. According to The Guardian, the UCI ruled that the 21-year-old is not eligible to participate as she is still registered as a male cyclist, and will not be allowed to compete in women’s events until her UCI ID expires. 

The announcement came after backlash over Bridges’ inclusion.

British Cycling said it has “engaged closely” with Bridges and her family “regarding her transition and involvement in elite competitions”. 

It added that it recognised Bridges’ “disappointment” and called for clarity across all sports surrounding trans participation in top competitions.

“Transgender and non-binary inclusion is bigger than one race and one athlete – it is a challenge for all elite sports,” British Cycling said.

“We believe all participants within our sport deserve more clarity and understanding around participation in elite competitions and we will continue to work with the UCI on both Emily’s case and the wider situation with regards to this issue.”

British Cycling also called for a coalition to be formed to “share, learn and understand more about how we can achieve fairness in a way that maintains the dignity and respect of all athletes”. 

In May last year, Emily Bridges finished 43rd out of 45 riders competing in the men’s crit at the Loughborough Cycling Festival. She finished in second to last place, a full 12km lap behind the winner, at the Welsh National Championship road race in September. 

Bridges did win a men’s points race at the British Universities’ championships in Glasgow in February, the BBC reported. It was her final men’s race. 

Bridges confronted tired arguments about ‘biological advantages’ often cited by opponents of trans women’s participation in female sports in an interview with Cycling Weekly

She said “these people” tended to argue about “factors like height, which change very little with hormone therapy”. Bridges acknowledged that she is “quite tall” at 6’2”, but that “some of the best riders are quite short” so “cycling performance is not height-dependent”. 

She added that she is “now trying to power a bigger frame” relative to her competitors “with a much reduced engine” due to hormone therapy.

Ultimately, she said, she just wants to compete in women’s events and “have a good time”.

Bex Shorunke, PR and media engagement manager for trans youth charity Mermaids, told PinkNews that the charity is “extremely disappointed and frustrated” that Bridges has been barred from taking part in the British National Omnium Championships. 

“Emily has closely adhered to the guidelines set out by the [UCI] for the participation of trans female athletes and yet, despite this, is allegedly, ineligible,” Shorunke said. “We are under no illusion that this is yet another attack on the rights of trans people, specifically, the inclusion of trans athletes in elite sports.”

Shorunke said it’s important to remember that “at the heart of this” story is a “young athlete whose dreams and ambitions risk being shattered” by such a decision. 

“Why should any person be forced to choose between being who they are and competing in a sport they love?” she asked. 

Shorunke told PinkNews it also wasn’t surprising to see the “right-wing media” use this as an opportunity to “further stoke the flames of the trans ‘debate’ by pedalling false narratives” that trans female athletes have an “unfair advantage over cis women”. 

Before the announcement on Wednesday, UCI president David Lappartient told BBC Sport that the governing body “fully recognise” the rights of trans people to participate in sports. 

However, he said he was a “little bit worried” about how the inclusion of trans athletes could “affect the fairness of competition” in women’s cycling events.

He said the current rules to measure testosterone levels are “probably not enough” and questioned if trans people may have an “advantage” as there may be a “memory from your body from what you were before”. 

In November 2021, the International Olympic Committee dropped its policy of setting testosterone limits for trans women who wish to compete in the Games.

IOC medical and scientific director Richard Budgett said at the time: “It’s perfectly clear now that performance is not proportional to your endogenous, in-built testosterone.”

It is now down to individual sporting bodies to set rules for trans inclusion with regards to the Olympics.

PinkNews has reached out to the UCI for comment.