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Cycling – given an inch, and they’ve taken a mile

A response to ‘Philippa York: Cycling needs transgender education, not exclusion’ published in cyclingnews on 11/05/2023

The recent win by male rider Austin Killips of the prestigious women’s Tour of the Gila cycling race has been a huge topic of conversation in the last couple of weeks and women are rightly enraged by the rapid freewheeling (pun intended) towards the apparently unstoppable rise of men in female cycling.

Male cyclist Lesley Mumford came first in the 40-49 age category of the epic 100-mile Desert Gravel Co2Ut cycle race which took place across Colorado and Utah in May 2023. Despite the event hosting a non-binary category, Mumford chose to race against women. In an apparent protest, the second and third placed women did not appear on the podium.

It’s not unusual to see a man walking away with a medal in a women’s cycling event, and in Austin Killips’ case, netting a large prize pot that was for the first time equal to the men’s purse. Plus the accolade of ‘Queen of the Mountains’. Over the last few years it certainly has not been rare to find men on the podium alongside women in cycling events in the UK and the USA. It is perhaps unfortunate for the movement that insists suppressing testosterone is the equivalent of being female, that men keep appearing on podiums in women’s races.

Over the last decade cycling has attracted increasing numbers of men to any event or organisation with the prefix women’s, arguably more so than any other sport. Perhaps because one or two high profile cyclists-turned-activists have the ear of organisers and have been given a platform to propagandise in mainstream media, playing on emotions like violin strings and presenting pseudoscience as fact. Or arguably because women gave way a little, being tolerant and accepting at the grassroots level in local cycling clubs; the sluice gate, lifted to allow a trickle, has been overwhelmed by the pressure from a dam swollen with pure misogyny and disdain for women having something of their own.

We gave an inch, and they stole a mile.

With feelings running high around the incursion of men into women’s sport, words such as ‘cheating’ and ‘gender doping’ are an understandable response, but also a distraction. The world governing body, Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) is, after all, giving men the green light to compete against women through their controversial and unjustifiable policies implemented without any consideration of, or consultation with female athletes.

But when the argument for including men in women’s sport is that it’s all about education, it’s time for some basic facts from the female perspective.

Fact. No male can ever experience female puberty - despite claims to the contrary as a way of defending the motivations of men who compete in women’s sport.

Grown men who are suppressing testosterone and taking oestrogen supplements go through physiological changes that they desire, have desired for years they say, choosing to morph into a slightly different shape that they hope will go some way toward mimicking a female figure.

Conversely, female puberty begins around age 9 and no girl is ever ready for it: it’s shocking, it’s embarrassing, it’s scary, it’s uncomfortable, it’s undoubtably unwanted. The physiological changes of female puberty are seismic, as are the psychological effects which can be so damaging and give rise to the propensity for anorexia and bulimia in teenage girls. No man will ever go through anything akin to this experience, no matter how much oestrogen travels around his veins. And whether the men who choose to go through this process do so in good faith or not doesn’t mitigate the circumstances we find ourselves in at this moment. It is irrelevant for policymaking. Sport is played in physical reality by bodies and the playing field must be level and fair.

As the subject of ‘a second puberty’ in men choosing to suppress testosterone has been raised, it’s also important to recognise that no man will ever have to deal with a menstrual cycle. Yes, women do moan about their periods (deal with it) because it’s more than just inconvenient mess, it’s a whole month of up and down, winter through to summer and back again, hormonal migraines and mood swings, inconsistent energy levels, iron deficiency (which is much more common among women than men and affects the body’s ability to efficiently transport oxygen to muscles). This does not equate to taking oestrogen pills. The playing field will never be level between a man taking oestrogen and a woman dealing with the physiological impact of fluctuating hormones and losing blood once a month. It’s a fact and policies should reflect facts.

Fact. In competitive cycling, any male participating in any women’s race is pushing a proportion of all females lower down the rankings, no matter where the male finishes at the end of the race.

Men are winning podium places and gaining financially at the expense of women. It is happening. It’s extremely difficult to hear that elite women are leaving their beloved sport heart-broken, desolate and powerless to stop the relentless pursuit of males to dominate their category. It’s also difficult to stomach the fact that some women are facilitators.

While there have been big headlines about Austin Killips’ win in many news outlets, we don’t hear about the women and girls cycling in local events and races who are regularly competing alongside middle-aged men. We don’t hear about the men finishing in mid-ranking places, or just below podium finishes among female competitors. What’s the message for these women and girls in terms of merit and effort in any race that includes one or more men? And what can their response be when the situation is rubber-stamped by the world governing organisation of cycling? Discouraging and disheartening for sure.

The self-exclusion of even one woman from one race, the retirement of just one woman through despair, the loss of a podium ranking of only one woman, is one woman too many. These women, all women, deserve fair sport.

Hannah Arensman was so devastated that Austin Killips had deprived her of a podium place when he finished

third at the 2022 US Cyclocross National Championships, she decided to retire from her beloved sport.

Fact. Sport is for all.

Nobody would argue against the statement that ‘Sport is for all’. People who love and are dedicated to their sport will be the most enthusiastic proponents of fitness and exercise and will be the first to encourage participation.

But there are rules. Whether it’s an offside rule in football or touching the wall when turning in swimming, age or weight categories, or being female to compete in women’s sport.

It is not bigotry or prejudice to point to the fact that the future of women’s sport requires governing bodies to protect the female category and that they should find an alternative for men who choose to suppress their testosterone.

At WRN, we know that sex-based segregation is essential for fair sport, and we will continue to campaign for this basic right for women.

It’s also crucial that women are allowed the freedom to associate as women-only groups or organisations for competitive grass-roots sports as well as non-competitive sports and leisure activities without the need to justify the exclusion of men.



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