Emily Bridges: not allowed to compete

With the conversation therapy ban around the corner, transgender lives are still struggling to gain recognition

Leo David Prajogo
8th April 2022
Image credit: Twitter - @BBCSport
Trans women have long faced challenges when competing in sports; trans women athletes have had to fight against systemic roadblocks and personal abuse. From tennis player Renee Richards to swimmer Lia Thomas, and now cyclist Emily Bridges.

Emily Bridges is a 21 year old transgender cyclist, who has been abused as she wanted to compete in the women’s category for the first time at the National Omnium Championship on Saturday. Before transitioning, she cycled competitively in the men’s category, having broken the junior male record for cycling 25 miles in 2018. She came out as a woman in October 2020.

Bridges spoke with Cycling Weekly about the effect hormone therapy has had on her performance as an athlete early last month when she came in 43rd out of 45 in a race. Despite this, she was less concerned with the loss of her previous physical performance as she was with the psychological benefits lowering her testosterone levels had on her. The gender euphoria that hormone therapy brings is a sentiment that is echoed by many within the trans community.

By the time she was set to compete at the National Omnium Championship, Bridges had met the criteria set by the UCI, the international governing body for cycling, for trans women competing: her testosterone levels had been below five nanomoles per litre for the last twelve months.

Twitter: @guardian_sport

Despite this, Bridges was still blocked from competing.

Little clarity has been given around this situation, and according to The Guardian, Bridges’ ineligibility was due to the fact that she was still registered as a male cyclist. However, Bridges had been in talks with the UCI and British Cycling for months regarding her eligibility to compete, making a simple administrative error like this seem unlikely.

Multiple news sources report that there was controversy in the cycling world around Bridges competing, and that there was talk of protests or boycotts at the race due to her inclusion as she was perceived as having an unfair advantage. Scientific evidence on this is mixed; the Sports Council Equality Group found “retained differences in strength, stamina and physique between the average woman compared with the average transgender woman or non-binary person registered male at birth” while a review by the Nottingham Centre for Gender Dysphoria and Loughborough University found “no direct or consistent research suggesting transgender female individuals have an athletic advantage at any stage of their transition”.

Whatever the case, the trauma Bridges has undergone from being excluded on unclear grounds and then harassed is unjustifiable.

Bridges has released a statement on the situation and talked about how she had been “relentlessly harassed and demonised”, and far too much has been said about her online and in the media that is subtly or overtly transphobic.

At the same time, Bridges has been met with support from the trans and cycling communities.

The UCI’s decision has been met with controversy by Bridges’ supporters and rivals alike. An article by Outsports discusses how this ruling goes directly against inclusion policies set by the International Olympic Committee. Since Bridges’ disqualification British Cycling has called for a “coalition to share, learn and understand more about how we can achieve fairness in a way that maintains the dignity and respect of all athletes”. The Cyclists’ Alliance criticised this decision as unfair, and agreed with the UCI president that further clarity beyond testosterone levels on trans women's inclusion in sports is needed.

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