World cycling body bans trans women from female categories: ‘Impossible to rule out advantage’ 

The peloton rides along Gorge Road during stage three of the Women's Tour Down Under UCI cycling event in Adelaide on January 17, 2023.

World cycling’s governing body has ruled that trans women will not be allowed to compete in female events in a policy U-turn. 

The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) announced on Friday (14 July) that trans women who transitioned after male puberty will be barred from competing in women’s categories, in the wake of a review held after US trans cyclist Austin Killips won a women’s race in April

The governing body previously allowed trans women to participate in female events if they were within a permitted plasma testosterone level of 2.5 nanomoles per litre. 

Now, however, trans women who transitioned after male puberty will be forced to compete in the men’s category, which has been renamed ‘men/open’. 

The UCI decision reflects that of British Cycling, which banned trans women from female events in May and introduced an ‘open’ category. According to the UCI, “any athlete who does not meet the conditions for participation in women’s events will be admitted without restriction” to the men/open category. 

The UCI initially supported Killips after the backlash over her victory in the gruelling fifth and final stage of the Tour of the Gila on 30 April, saying that the body’s transgender policy is “based on the latest scientific knowledge”. 

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However, just three days later, the UCI backtracked, saying that it would reopen its consultation as it “hears the voices of female athletes and their concerns about an equal playing field”.

In a statement on Friday, the UCI confirmed that its management committee had voted to ban trans women from female events as the maximum testosterone level previously permitted was not “sufficient to completely eliminate the benefits of testosterone during puberty in men”.

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The UCI’s statement continued: “Given the current state of scientific knowledge, it is also impossible to rule out the possibility that biomechanical factors such as the shape and arrangement of the bones in their limbs may constitute a lasting advantage for female transgender athletes.”

David Lappartient, the UCI president, described the body’s international-level trans ban as a “precautionary measure”.

Lappartient said: “First of all, the UCI would like to reaffirm that cycling – as a competitive sport, leisure activity or means of transport – is open to everyone, including transgender people, whom we encourage like everyone else to take part in our sport.

“I would also like to reaffirm that the UCI fully respects and supports the right of individuals to choose the sex that corresponds to their gender identity, whatever sex they were assigned at birth. However, it has a duty to guarantee, above all, equal opportunities for all competitors in cycling competitions.

“It is this imperative that led the UCI to conclude that, given the current state of scientific knowledge does not guarantee such equality of opportunity between transgender female athletes and cisgender female participants, it was not possible, as a precautionary measure, to authorise the former to race in the female categories.”

Trans cyclist Emily Bridges spoke out against the UCI’s decision, describing it as erasing hope and trust.

In a heartfelt statement posted on Instagram, Bridges wrote: “It’s the hope that gets you. The thought that there’s some small possibility that they’re not going to wield the axe and cut you from the thing you (used to) love keeps some semblance of hope for the future in this environment.

“But that hope is gone now. The trust in the institution is gone. 

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“Official, sanctioned competitive sport is no longer for trans people. We will continue to fight this, in sports science labs, in courtrooms and on the streets, but I am under no impression that it is as easy to unban someone as it is to ban in the first place.”

American professional cyclo-cross racer and renowned vegan athlete Molly Cameron called the decision “unacceptable” and described the policy as “deeply problematic”.

“[It] will be disappointing to see who takes the easy out from continuing the hard work and allyship …Taking rights and opportunities from one does not equate to fairness for all,” Cameron wrote.

Former Olympian and current Republican Caitlyn Jenner, who has long been a vocal opponent of trans inclusion in sports, expressed support for the UCI’s decision, calling it “good news”.

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