UCI must follow British Cycling's lead and change transgender policy before World Championships

Austin Killips won the UCI-ranked Tour of the Gila, a victory that once again raised questions about fairness in women's cycling - Belga/David Pintens
Austin Killips won the UCI-ranked Tour of the Gila, a victory that once again raised questions about fairness in women's cycling - Belga/David Pintens

Many have fought for a long time and gone through many challenges to make the gains that have seen women’s sport evolve into its rightful place in the social conscience; a place where the exploits of our daughters are as respected as those of our sons. We are not there yet, but the position and changes currently occurring are visible by the month and unimaginable from the time of my youth, when sporting bodies such as British Cycling could write off my entreaties that they should actually hold British Championship events for girls, just as they did for boys.

I admire and respect the efforts of those who went before me, who went above and beyond, and those who followed me, and I trust my own efforts in that regard were also worthy.

The still-evolving nature of women’s sport means that it relies heavily on many who work on the logistics supporting it, going above and beyond, changing and challenging the status quo.

That the transgender cyclist Austin Killips won the UCI-ranked Tour of the Gila in the USA garnered lots of press coverage with the obvious focus: was it a fair athletic competition; what do other riders think; what does Killips’s team think? Well the business model is a free-to-view sport with sponsors paying teams for publicity to put their brand into the media.

What garnered less coverage, but was very insightful, were the post-race comments made by the organiser of the race, Michael Engleman, a long-time supporter and promoter of women’s sport. He was critical of the UCI’s position on transgender participation that had tied his hands. When individuals such as him are contemplating the effect of the UCI policy, saying that “this may kill the sport” and are considering leaving cycling, that threat is real.

Women’s elite cycling has been here before; we had a Tour de France and Giro d’Italia that were both two weeks’ long before the exit of sponsors caused by toxic publicity, in that case the UCI’s inability to address the issue of performance-enhancing substances effectively.

I am, therefore, pleased with Friday’s announcement from British Cycling. Rather than acquiesce to the UCI, they have taken the lead. They have preserved the safe space of women’s sport for those athletes identified as female at birth and converted the “men’s” category to an “open” category.

The statement also describes the constraint for August's World Road Race Championships which will be hosted by Glasgow. In those events UCI policy takes precedence and rightly places responsibility with the governing body.

There is speculation that Killips will have a set of results to meet USA Cycling selection for those Glasgow World Championships and the UCI policy enables Killips’s participation.

Engleman made this comment about Killips: “I have worked with some of the best female cyclists in the world, and I saw them do extraordinary things right from the beginning, and here’s somebody who nobody has ever heard of, who in a first UCI stage race [the 2022 Tour of the Gila] comes third. It hardly ever happens. Austin was also third in a time trial on a non-time trial bike. So, it makes you wonder. I’m a performance person. You look at that and you say, ‘that’s not right’.”

No, Michael Engleman, it is clearly not right. It is now down to the UCI to decide whether to follow British Cycling’s correct decision.

Transgender women athletes may feel put out by riding with the men but factual athletic attainments always trump that.

Please indulge a trip back in time. In youth races I was frequently the only girl. I rode with the boys. Usually there would be prizes for first to third and a separate first girl’s prize. The organiser is always busy on the day and had obviously prepared sealed envelopes beforehand.

Come the end of a very muddy cyclo-cross race, the organiser encouraged us to ascend on to the rickety picnic table which stood in for a podium. The envelopes were given out. The smashing boy, with whom I had just fought every pedal stroke from the start to the finishing sprint, was obviously more aware than me.

As I concentrated on trying to stay upright whilst mums and dads took pictures, he opened his envelope and told me to open mine. I did and he asked how much was there. He said, “Here, let’s swap, you deserve this, you won.” I gave him my envelope and he passed me the winner’s envelope. All the mums and dads saw this live on the table top. That young man might have come second in the race but he certainly came first in everyone’s hearts. It is only sport and fair sport that can give you those golden, unscripted, spontaneous moments. Moments that will live with you and uplift you until the end of your life.

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