21st April, 2022 12:40 pm
British Olympic gold medallist Katie Archibald says female and transgender athletes have been “let down” by inclusion policies in sport.
Archibald, who won the madison at Tokyo 2020, is the first British cyclist to speak publicly about transgender athletes taking part in women’s races.
Transgender athletes must be welcomed into sport but without “sacrificing fairness”, added Archibald.
“I, too, feel let down by these policies,” the Scottish rider said.
In November, new guidance from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) said there should be no assumption that a transgender athlete automatically has an unfair advantage in female events.
Archibald, who won gold in the team pursuit at Rio 2016 and silver in the same event in Tokyo last year, said the IOC was “wrong”.
“[It tells me] that losing to male androgenisation is not about biology, but mindset,” she said.
Transgender cyclist Emily Bridges was allowed by British Cycling to compete at last month’s National Omnium Championships.
But, three days before the event, the decision was overruled by world governing body, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI).
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Archibald, 28, said the late ruling by the UCI was “unfair” and made the debate become “sadly personal”.
After being prevented from competing, 21-year-old Bridges released a statement saying she felt “harassed and demonised” and had “little clarity” on her eligibility.
She added that her privacy had been “totally violated” and that she had received “targeted abuse” on social media.
“These policies have put the athletes, their involvement in sport and their personal lives under intense scrutiny,” Archibald said.
“All the athletes have done is follow the rules and enter a category they were encouraged to enter.”
Archibald says that as a female athlete she also feels “let down” by the policies and particularly aimed criticism at the IOC.
“I feel let down by the IOC who tell me there should be no assumed advantage for an athlete with a gender identity different to their sex,” Archibald said.
“I read this and hear my world titles, Olympic medals and the champions jerseys I have at home were all won in a category of people who simply don’t try as hard as the men.”
After the controversy surrounding Bridges’ participation, a group of elite female cyclists called on the UCI to “rescind” its rules around transgender participation.
The letter – referring to the Bridges situation – said there was “deep regret” at the “crisis situation”, claiming female athletes in the UK “have shown you they were willing to boycott” in order for the UCI and British Cycling “to hear their concerns about fairness in their sport”.
Archibald said she was not one of the cyclists who had signed the letter.
The Scottish rider added she had sent a message of support to Bridges, but has not spoken to the 21-year-old directly.
Asked why she had decided to speak out now, Archibald said: “It felt like I couldn’t continue making no comment when it is an issue which has been put to us so consistently.
“There is only so long you can point out ‘I’m not the person with all the answers and it’s not my job, or my team-mates’ job, to write policy’.
“The wider world was asking for comment and I’ve tried to be succinct in what I do feel and what I do understand. But I don’t want to overstep my level of expertise.”
What is the debate about?
The heart of the debate on whether transgender women athletes should compete in women’s sport involves the complex balance of inclusion, sporting fairness and safety.
Trans women have to adhere to a number of rules to compete in specific sports, including in many cases lowering their testosterone levels to a certain amount, for a set period of time, before competing.
There are concerns, however, that athletes retain a biological advantage from going through male puberty that is not addressed by lowering testosterone.
Last year, a review by the Sports Councils Equality Group (SCEG) said “for many sports, the inclusion of transgender people, fairness and safety cannot co-exist in a single competitive model”.
Sports – at both elite and non-elite level – have been encouraged to come up with their own policies.
Following the controversy around Bridges’ participation, British Cycling suspended its policy which required riders to have had testosterone levels below five nanomoles per litre for a 12-month period before competition.
Transgender women are no longer able to compete at elite female events run by the organisation.
‘Everyone should feel welcomed in our sport’- read Katie Archibald’s full statement
Cycling has given me things that I value deeply. It’s given me friendships, mentors, and rivals. It’s given me an outlet for my desire to compete, an escape from the world when I need it, and a community I can always rely on.
Riding a bike keeps me healthy, riding a bike keeps me happy, and I believe everyone should have a chance to feel this way about cycling, and to feel welcomed by the cycling community that I hold dear.
With this in mind, it is my opinion that the international governing bodies of several sports have let down transgender athletes, in particular transgender women, with their inclusion policies.
These policies have put the athletes, their involvement in sport, and their personal lives under intense scrutiny when all the athletes have done is follow the rules and enter a category they were encouraged to enter.
I, too, feel let down by these policies.
I feel let down by the International Olympic Committee who tell me there should be no assumed advantage for an athlete with a gender identity different to their sex.
I read this and hear that my world titles, my Olympic medals, and the champions jerseys I have at home, were all won in a category of people who simply don’t try as hard as the men.
That losing to male androgenisation is not about biology, but mindset. They are wrong.
The retained advantage of people who have gone through male puberty in strength, stamina, and physique, with or without testosterone suppression, has been well documented.
Cycling’s global governing body, by its president’s own admission, knows this. But they chose to delay action until it became sadly personal for one rider. That wasn’t fair.
I have the utmost respect for transgender people and equally respect their right to fair and safe inclusion in sport.
Global sports bodies, instead of doing the work to create a welcoming and inclusive environment in a category where fairness could be ensured, have put the personal lives of these athletes on to the pages of tabloid newspapers. It’s not right and we can’t continue this way.
I’d like the work to start now. I’d like national and global sports bodies to work with the wider scientific community when developing their policies.
I’d like the governing bodies of cycling and related endurance sports like triathlon and rowing to work together and pool their resources for this work.
I’d like us all to continue welcoming trans athletes into our clubs, our training sessions, and our races. But I’d like us to do all this without sacrificing one of the foundational pillars of sport: fairness.
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