Five nanomoles per litre. That is what we reduce it to. The level of testosterone permitted for competition in women’s sport. Trans women broken down merely to their DNA, as Pippa York has it.

York competed professionally as the cyclist Robert Millar and was king of the mountains at the Tour de France in 1984. She completed her transition in 2003 and now sits on GB Cycling’s diversity and inclusion advisory group. So her views on the Emily Bridges controversy carry influence.

She is right, the conversation is often reduced to hormonal analysis and scientific assessments that lack a basic humanity. 

Trans cyclist Emily Bridges wants to compete in women’s sport following her transition





British cycling icon Mandy Bishop claims women riders aren’t… Athletes fear track and field could soon be embroiled into… Olympic chiefs warned over handling of trans athletes as… Commonwealth Games agrees gender rules which could see a…

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Yet that happens not from an absence of empathy, but because sport’s authorities are too cowed by the potential backlash to consider drawing lines elsewhere. What if this stopped being about testosterone or the effects of male puberty and became instead about the sport? Professional or amateur; elite or grassroots.

What if we made that the difference? We are trying to balance twin needs, inclusivity and fairness, and finding them incompatible. So what if we concede that not all sport, and not all levels of sport, are the same. That some forms can prioritise inclusivity, and be open for all; and others prioritise fairness, because competition and professional careers are at stake.

We stop drawing lines in the laboratory, and draw them instead in the pyramid. Everyone can participate, but there comes a level at which women’s sport is open only to those born female.

Where are we going to draw that line? Well, let’s start with some recent examples. Blair Hamilton is a trans woman who plays in goal for Hastings United. A 32-year-old PhD student at Brighton she has recently been selected for the England Universities squad. Previously she had played for the men’s team at Aberdeen University. Hamilton’s height is 6ft which, to put this into perspective, gives her four inches on any of the three goalkeepers in the current England women’s squad.

Man City goalkeeper Ellie Roebuck is considerably shorter than trans woman Blair Hamilton

The difficulties for female goalkeepers are so obvious that it is regularly debated whether goal sizes should be reduced to give them a better chance of making saves.

Even Emma Hayes, of Chelsea, and probably the most highly regarded female coach in the English game, has contemplated this. A goal direct from a corner is rare in a men’s match, but Katie Zelem of Manchester United scored three across two consecutive fixtures this season, against Manchester City and Leicester. Manchester City’s goalkeeper, Ellie Roebuck, plays for England. She is 5ft 8½in. 

So Hamilton has an obvious advantage over born female goalkeepers. The equalisation achieved by reduced testosterone it is not going to make a person four inches shorter. Is her inclusion in the Universities squad therefore fair? Well, logically, no, but if we’re determining priorities, yes. University sports are in essence grassroots. The overwhelming majority of competitors are playing for fun.

Hamilton is not about to take Roebuck’s place at Manchester City. She is in a squad, with other women, who can still play some of the games, and also turn out for their university, their hall, even a local grassroots club.

If inclusion is important, here is the line. If a trans women wants to play for Old Loughtonians hockey club at the weekend, what is her alternative? She’s unlikely to find 10 other like-minded souls, or a league, that caters for them all. So she plays in a women’s team, or gives up.

And nobody should have to give up. If transitioning allows people to be themselves and sport is a part of that self, we have to find a way, right? And in grassroots sport, dreams aren’t exactly being stolen. There are other meets, other matches, clubs can work out a reasoned team dynamic.

It is not Laurel Hubbard taking Kuinini Manumua’s place in the weightlifting for New Zealand at the 2021 Olympics. That is a lifetime of sacrifice and yearning denied. Elite sport has to be viewed differently.

Trans woman Laurel Hubbard competed in weightlifting for New Zealand at the 2021 Olympics

In fact, every country should draw its own lines. We can view university sport in the United Kingdom as part of the grassroots but, in America, it has far greater significance.

The presence of Lia Thomas in the NCAA swimming finals wasn’t just about her place on the podium in one event. The eight who reach the final — as Thomas did for the University of Pennsylvania — are classified with the title First Team All-American.

Reka Gyorgy of Virginia Tech, who missed out on a place at the meeting, wrote in a letter to the NCAA: ‘One spot was taken away from the girl who got ninth in the 500 free and didn’t make it back to the A final, preventing her from being all-American. Every event that transgender athletes competed in was one spot away from biological females throughout the meet.’ 

And this can be argued at every level, from the NCAA finals to Old Loughtonians’ fourth XI. Yet again, inclusivity versus fairness. There is a level at which the balance tips. Maybe, in America, with college sport so important — think of the various drafts into NFL, basketball and baseball — that line has to be drawn further down the pyramid. Maybe a British Lia Thomas would not be regarded as such a challenge to women’s sport; or maybe it’s about more than just winning.

Pippa York makes the point that since trans athletes were allowed to compete by the IOC in 2004 ‘not a single Olympic medal has ever been won by a trans person. Not one trans athlete has even got close. Hubbard qualified in 16th place and finished in 16th place. Last’.

Indeed, but it was the Olympics. So it’s not just the winning, it’s the taking part. No mention there of Manumua, who didn’t make it to Tokyo. She’s 21, so maybe another time; or maybe that was it and the chance never comes again.

Trans swimmer Lia Thomas has had recent success over in America in the NCAA finals

It could also be argued she wasn’t good enough; but neither was Hubbard until she competed against biological women. She set New Zealand junior records in 1998, but stopped lifting three years later and only began again after transitioning. One understands how she might not have felt comfortable until that moment, but it isn’t the point.

And while York stated trans competition as ancient history — 2004 — it was only in 2015 that it became a matter of self-declaration and nanomoles, and not full gender reassignment.

Bulk still matters in some women’s sport. Height matters. Weight matters. Prior to the women’s Cricket World Cup final, there was much talk about England spinner Sophie Ecclestone.

It was asked who is better, Ecclestone or Jack Leach? Not in terms of their value to their teams — plainly Ecclestone is having greater impact in the women’s game than Leach in the men’s — but head to head. World Cup winner Alex Hartley said she believed Ecclestone could play first-class cricket for a men’s side.

This may be an overstated argument given that against the best women’s team, Australia, in her two most recent matches Ecclestone’s figures were 20-0-148-1, but the debate had traction for a few days. One of the reasons Hartley thought that Ecclestone could play in men’s cricket was her height.

‘At 5ft 11in, she is tall, so instead of trying to get the ball up and over the batter’s eye-line, she can achieve that just by bowling from her natural height,’ she wrote. See the problem here? If that’s one of Ecclestone’s main advantages in women’s cricket, it is entirely unexceptional in men’s. Leach is taller; so is leg-spinner Matt Parkinson, who can’t get a game for England. 

Equally, a player like Anya Shrubsole would be told to shed weight and get fitter in men’s cricket, as Ollie Robinson was. In the women’s game, where power needs to be generated, this is not such a pressing issue — although it may become so, because Australia’s athleticism was an undoubted factor in their success.

Either way, we cannot pretend that the physicality of male shapes, male sizes, male puberty, male muscle memory, is of no significance, when 5ft 11in — an inch taller than the average man, not the average sportsman, in the UK — is seen as hugely advantageous for women.

Alex Hartley has claimed Sophie Ecclestone (above) could play against men due to her height

And so to Emily Bridges, the trans cyclist whose emergence has brought the debate urgently to these shores. Like Lia Thomas, Bridges drew attention because she is going to be good.

She set the junior men’s record over 25 miles in 2018, with a time two minutes faster than the best over the distance by an adult woman, Hayley Simmonds. In February, she won the men’s points race at the British Universities Championship and her Nottingham team took bronze in the men’s team pursuit.

And then Bridges was scheduled to race as a female in the National Omnium Championships in Derby last Saturday, against the literal grand Dame of British cycling, Laura Kenny. At which point the rules seemed to change.

It was as if cycling was fine with Bridges until she threatened the position of one of the true Olympic greats; much like Thomas swam happily beneath the radar until she closed in on the achievements of Katie Ledecky. The authorities began to see the future. Bridges competing, potentially, for Wales in the Commonwealth Games; Bridges going to the Olympics as part of Team GB.  

And then the governing body stepped in. The UCI found some rules that took Bridges out of the Derby event, initially for six weeks while a committee considers her status, but perhaps for much longer, depending on interpretation. David Lappartient, president of the UCI, said his organisation was being lobbied heavily by women cyclists who were ‘completely against’ the current rules on transgender inclusion. It is as if the UCI know the reality, the parameters, of the fairness versus inclusion debate, but don’t know how to acknowledge them.

One observer at the National Omnium Championships said the participants were staying silent on the subject out of fear.

Yet if it is transphobic to ask how fair it is that Emily Bridges can win highly competitive races competing against men on February 27, and then compete against women on April 2 — just 34 days later — then we have lost sight of rational debate. Clearly, there must be a border where fairness trumps inclusivity. 

Bridges (above) was due to race against Laura Kenny before she was blocked from competing

Bridges can compete as a women for her university, for her club, as the alternative is to deny her access to her sport; but is it right that she takes the place of a woman who has trained all her life with elite participation as the goal? Who has her sights on a professional career, maybe the Olympics? Who has trained and sacrificed with none of the advantages of a born male?

Nobody is denying Bridges’ right to be a woman, to cycle, to compete. The sole limit is on the incursion into elite women’s sport. And Shape Kapseln Erfahrungen if Emily loves being a woman so much, why would she want to challenge that?

‘No balance, no empathy,’ was how York described the present debate, but that isn’t true. All of the regulations and no little of the controversy springs from empathy.

The 2015 IOC rule clarification was made, well-meaningly, because in some countries sex changes are illegal. It was never thought it would come to this. Equally, a lot of governing bodies have spent enormous time considering transgender inclusion and its implication. York’s presence on the panel at GB Cycling confirms it. And then there are the idiots.

‘Anyone nastily trying to diminish Lia Thomas’s incredible achievement because of lazy transphobia should frankly pipe down,’ tweeted Labour MP Charlotte Nichols. 

Lazy transphobia, lazy journalism, lazy this, lazy that. Do you know the laziest trope of all? Posting a few characters of hot take dribble on social media and confusing it with the hours, days, weeks, months and years people in sport have spent considering, and reconsidering, evaluating and re-evaluating transgender issues, and all in the interest of balancing fairness and inclusivity, trying to make a palette of the thickest grey into a defined and manageable black, and white.

Labour MP Charlotte Nichols (above) has accused critics of Lia Thomas of ‘lazy transphobia’

And then they are accused of being lazy, or lacking empathy, of harassment and demonisation, the charge Bridges threw at the media. ‘They print whatever is most likely to result in the highest engagement for their articles, and bring in advertising,’ she said, which may be somewhat overplaying the hand of the National Omnium Championships in Derby.

Anyway, the idea that only one side of the debate lacks empathy is rather misguided. ‘It is time to end the hysteria in the transgender debate,’ read a headline in The Times. No surprises for guessing who got painted as the hysterical ones. Women, know your place.

York — she was quoted — also disputed an allegation that Thomas exposed his male genitalia in the women’s dressing room. ‘You just know it didn’t happen,’ said York. You do? How?

And does anyone still wonder why on this, and so many other subjects, women feel they struggle to make their voices heard? Don’t worry, ladies. When we’ve worked out what’s best, we’ll tell you.  





British cycling icon Mandy Bishop claims women riders aren’t… Athletes fear track and field could soon be embroiled into… Olympic chiefs warned over handling of trans athletes as… Commonwealth Games agrees gender rules which could see a…

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