The international federation governing world cycling, UCI, announced on 14 July 2023 that it will rename its Men’s race category Men’s/Open, and that only those who have not gone through male puberty may compete in Women’s events. Despite the usual cries of transphobia, this is a rational approach to fairness and inclusion for all in sport.
Back in 2022 the prospect of an elite male winning a place in a national women’s team for the Commonwealth Games pushed both UCI and its UK equivalent, British Cycling, to take this issue seriously. Their policy shift from one year to two years of testosterone suppression was enough to keep Bridges out of the women’s team then, but it took until May 2023 for British Cycling to restore the female category to those born female.
US Cycling did nothing, and, predictably, males of all ages are winning podium spots and cash prizes in cycling races in North America. It’s likely that the antics of Austin Killips in the USA in 2023 tipped the balance for UCI. Killips is unsympathetic as a protagonist, and far from being the transwoman who “just wants to race in the sport she loves” – which is the usual call for sports to centre trans-identifying males at the expense of women. It seems that yet again we have a man to thank for revealing the misogyny at the centre of these sports policies. Fairness for women is easily abandoned, until some male takes advantage of the rules and makes the sport look ridiculous.
Cycling, athletics and swimming are the top three sports by participation in the UK. In the past few months they have all restored fairness for females, and now this is true at world level too. The next biggest sports are football and badminton, where we are still working to get fair policies for women and girls. In the UK, both sports are likely to announce a revised policy this autumn. The situation is complicated by the separate governing bodies for each sport across the home nations, so that we may see different rules in England, Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland. At world level in football, FIFA is conducting a review but no timeline has been declared.
Let’s keep up the pressure!
These changes put pressure on other sports. We have pointed out to the football authorities that they are likely to see more trans-identifying males in their women’s game now that they may not compete in women’s cycling and running. Both cycling and football are heavily male-dominated in the UK – for every female player there are 9 males. We’ve also reminded them that it becomes harder to make good policy when it becomes personal. English football already has 50 male players registered with the Football Association as transwomen playing in women’s teams. So they need to get on with it.
Now is the time to keep the pressure on. Several big sports are conducting reviews right now. It’s frustrating that they are so slow and cautious in revising unfair policies that they adopted with no real care or evidence at all. But it is progress. We will keep reminding sports bodies at all levels to centre females in their decisions about who is eligible for the female categories. Inclusion for all means ensuring fairness for all, and that’s achieved through categories. If your sport is still getting it wrong, please let us know. And let them know too.