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Emily Bridges decision shows the flaw in the IOC’s new framework

Cycling’s world governing body made a call and ignored a critical IOC principle in the process

Emily Bridges was set to make her debut in women’s competition last week. A last-minute decision by the UCI took the chance away.

The International Olympic Committee’s Framework for Fairness Inclusion and Non-Discrimation on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations, said to be in effect as of March, are getting their first trial by fire in the case of British cyclist Emily Bridges.

One of the biggest flaws in the new IOC policy — the option of governing bodies to ignore its suggestions — is front-and-center.

The 21-year-old trans woman from Cwmbran, Wales was disqualified from the National Omnium Championships event held last weekend in Derby, UK. The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI), the world’s governing body for cycling, ruled her ineligible for the competition slated to be her first women’s event. It would also have been an opportunity to qualify for a place on Team Wales for the Commonwealth Games later this year.

Previously, she was told by British Cycling that she was eligible by the rules she diligently followed for more than a year, including a 5-nanomole limit on serum testosterone.

She came out in October 2020 and started hormone therapy. She’s dealt with the harsh realities of training, competing, and being a transgender person in a country known by some as “TERF Island.”

As she transitioned, she competed in men’s elite events as per the rules and her performance suffered as expected. However, she also competed at a national collegiate track cycling championship in February as part of the men’s side at the University of Nottingham. She won an individual event and helped their school’s pursuit team win a title.

Does this sound familiar? Some media outlets are calling Bridges “The Next Lia Thomas.”

Unlike the situation with the American swimmer, the landscape here involves a key principle laid down by the IOC, and how the UCI seemingly discounted it.

Among the ten principles in the IOC’s new framework, the fifth one is the focus here:

International Olympic Committee

That leads to the sixth principle:

International Olympic Committee

In a recent article by cycling journalist David Bradford in Cycling World last month, Bridges went into fine detail on how HRT affected her performance. She is a participant in the research on the issue being done at Loundsborough University and provided the data she had collected on herself to British Cycling and the UCI.

The data showed a reported a 13-16% drop in Bridges’ effective power compared to her pre-transition efforts. Such a drop points to further evidence that researchers such as Joanna Harper put forth in a paper last year on how feminizing HRT affects key components of performance in a demanding hybrid of specific power and endurance like competitive cycling.

https://www.instagram.com/emilybridges45_/

In a statement she posted across her social media, Bridges called out the confused response she received.

“I have been judged despite a total lack of evidence against me, purely because I am trans,” she wrote.

The actions of the UCI give an appearance of this. Their policy states that a transgender woman seeking to compete has to inform a medical manager at least six weeks before the date of her first competition and show proof that said athlete meets the 5 nm/L-1 year serum testosterone standard. Once that proof is put forth, it is then reviewed by “a commission of three international experts independent of the UCI”.

It sound direct and simple, but former Grand Tour competitor and cycling journalist Pippa York noted the inconsistencies in a column in The Times April 2. Such inconsistencies within the rules, York believes, opened the door to the UCI citing a bureaucratic and registration mixup as the reason why Bridges was denied the chance to race.

“Her eligibility hasn’t been stamped on by the UCI under the guise of fairness or the laxity of British Cycling.” she stridently questioned. “In fact it’s due to the UCI’s complicated process and an unnecessary delay of six weeks to process an email containing the information the governing body requires. And even more poignantly, she’s been giving the UCI what it ought to have been looking for in the first place.”

The Cyclist’s Alliance, a professional women’s competitive cycling union, was just as pointed.

“We believe that the UCI and British Cycling have demonstrated unfairness by not adhering to their own eligibility criteria set and ask for transparent clarification to be given to Emily Bridges on their decision,” the union said in a written statement.

Track Cycling World Championship
UCI President David Lappartient has stated that the situation with Emily Bridges may lead to further changes in the UCI’s participation guidelines for trans athetes
Photo by Sebastian Gollnow/picture alliance via Getty Images

Cyclist Alliance representatives further suggested to Cycling News that Cyclistes Professionnels Associés, the cyclist’s union recognized by the UCI, have put pressure on UCI President David Lappartient to keep Bridges on the sidelines. In an article in the Guardian last week Lappartient did not deny such concerns exist.

“The question is, is there a memory from your body from what you were before? Do you have an advantage for this,” he asked. “Do we have a breach of fair competition? When you ask this question, it is not to challenge the fact that people want to transition. At the moment, the union of women’s riders are completely against this and challenging the UCI. So we are in between.”

So we return to the same question. Even with all the evidence shown of her transition and adherence to the rules, was Emily Bridges held out because of supposition of advantage? Did holding a junior record at age 17 pre-transition count more in the eyes of the rulemakers than what Bridges put forward for review at age 21?

Did the visions of Kellie Jay Keen leading a merry band of transphobes to Derby, the same way they invaded the NCAA swim finals in Atlanta to harass Lia Thomas, dance in their heads? The TERF protests were there anyway, even if Bridges wasn’t competing.

The actions of the UCI seem to say “yes”, but that isn’t the most bitter pill to this reporter.

The worst of this is seeing how the IOC’s “framework for fairness” was a complete failure here because of a critical flaw: The governing bodies can ignore these lofty guidelines at will.

In this situation, the UCI did just that. Once again, a transgender woman who just wants to compete in her truth is denied by rules makers who falsely and fearfully believe otherwise.