This UK debate over trans women's participation in women's sport is worth a look

This UK debate over trans women's participation in women's sport is worth a look

As I pointed out earlier this month, the public debate over transgender rights seems to be getting as much attention in the UK as it is here in the United States. That debate has already become politicized with Labour Party leader Keir Starmer taking the progressive line that “trans women are women” but also declining to say during a radio show whether a woman can “have a penis.” Meanwhile, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said he’d come to a few conclusions of his own about the topic, including that he did not believe “biological males should be competing in female sporting events.”


Now there’s another reason to debate the issue because a trans woman cyclist named Emily Bridges was told by cycling’s governing body, Union Cycliste Internationale, that she could not compete in the world championship in London even though her testosterone levels were low enough to meet the guidelines established by the group.

Emily Bridges, who was set to race against British Olympic stars such as Laura Kenny in the event, said she found out through British Cycling on Wednesday that the UCI had ruled she was ineligible.

The 21-year-old said in a statement she has been in contact with British Cycling and the UCI for the past six months ahead of what was supposed to be her first race in a women’s event.

“In that time, I have provided both British Cycling and the UCI with medical evidence that I meet the eligibility criteria for transgender female cyclists, including that my testosterone limit has been far below the limit prescribed by the regulations for the last 12 months,” Bridges said in her statement, which was posted by LGBTQIA+ cycling group PRiDE OUT.

The reason for the UCI decision might have been the pushback they received over Bridges participation.

Among the female athletes to express opposition to Bridges’ inclusion in the event was British 800m runner Ellie Baker, who labeled the original decision as “ridiculous.”

“How this has been allowed to happen is just ridiculous,” she wrote on Twitter. “I would refuse to race and hope that the other women would stand with me on this too. This is totally unfair. The advantages a trans women has had from going through puberty as a boy to a man can never been undone.”

Fellow athletes Seren-Bundy Davies and Jessie Knight were among those to express support for Baker’s post, as well as former British swimmer Sharron Davies.


Swimmer Sharron Davies said she was in contact with a number of female cyclists and athletes who all objected to competing against trans women in women’s sports but who were afraid to say so publicly.

Speaking to BBC Sport, Davies, 56, said she had spoken to many other female athletes who “feel the same way”.

“It is not a transphobic thing – I really want to say we have no issue with people who are transgender,” she said.

“Every single woman athlete I’ve spoken to, and I have spoken to many, all of my friends in international sports, understand and feel the same way as me.

“Unfortunately, a lot of people who are in the races [now] are in a very difficult predicament when they can’t speak out. It maybe falls to the people who were competing [in the past] who would understand the predicament that is being faced at the moment to try to create a debate, and try to explain how we feel there needs to be a fair and level playing field.”

Yesterday, Britain’s Culture Secretary, Nadine Dorries, appeared on a right-leaning news network and weighed in on the topic:

Speaking to GB News today, Ms Dorries said: ‘You can choose your gender and we will support you and help you to do that… but you cannot change your biology.

She added: ‘You cannot change that you were born male or that you were born female, it is what it is.

And that was followed by a roundtable discussion between GB News host Dan Wootton, a political commentator named Dominique Samuels, a conservative former candidate for Mayor of London, Sean Bailey and a progressive author named Amy Nickell.


The debate started with Sean Bailey arguing that people should support Sharron Davies and prevent women’s sport from being damaged by trans women participation. “The hardest thing in the world is to keep young teenage girls involved in sport. One of the big things is seeing their champions, their heroes succeed. Mix trans women into it, you fail that,” he said.

Amy Nickell responded by calling it a “massive moral panic” because the number of trans women competitors was so small. Wootton interjected that it only took the inclusion of one trans woman to unbalance an entire competition.

Nickell then made this argument in an attempt to side-step the issue of biology: “Could you replace all the times you used the word trans with gay? You say gay people can’t be involved in women’s sport…”

At this point both Wootton and Dominique Samuels jumped in to say that was completely different. Nickell denied that and then claimed that trans women in sport were “80 percent more likely” to commit suicide.

Asked by Wootton if biological women had the right to participate in sport against other biological women, Nickell said it was better to include trans women and added that what would help prevent giving trans women an advantage was “hormone blockers for children.” She added “a trans child shouldn’t be put through puberty.”

Here’s Wootton’s full show cued up to his introduction of the topic and his interview with the Culture Secretary. Following that is the roundtable debate. The main difference I see between what’s happening here in the US and what’s happening over there is at least there something like a debate is taking place there. Here we mostly get a stilted, one-sided presentation that barely acknowledges there are some issues still worth debating around this topic.


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