When I was small, the very first professional replica jersey I had was that of the team of my hero, Robert Millar, the first British rider to make the podium at the Tour de France. I wore it while cycling the hills around my home in Wales, dreaming that I was riding the Alps just like Robert did.
He has since transitioned to Pippa York – and I am in awe of the strength of character that required. I also naturally sympathise with Pippa for having spent much of her life in the ‘wrong’ body. I cannot imagine how difficult that private struggle must have been.
This weekend trans cyclist Emily Bridges was due to compete at the Women’s British Omnium Championships in Derby against Laura Kenny, the star of the event and a former Olympic champion. Passionate, emotive arguments setting out why she should and shouldn’t take part flowed from those defending LGBT rights – and those defending women’s sport rights.
Obvious to all those remaining neutral is that the rights of one group can only be maintained via a loss of rights of the other.
So why should I speak out – and what can I add? ‘Why risk becoming a hate figure for one section of society,’ I can hear you ask. ‘Can’t you see the vitriol directed at Sharron Davies and JK Rowling?’
Well, I am prepared to speak out about trans athletes’ inclusion in female sport partly because I am not a Sharron Davies or JK Rowling. I am not famous. The lazy argument that ‘you are just trying to deny access because yours might otherwise be compromised’ does not apply to me. I no longer compete. Any current athlete who speaks out will be branded a ‘sore loser’ on social media.
When I was small, the very first professional replica jersey I had was that of the team of my hero, Robert Millar, the first British rider to make the podium at the Tour de France, writes NICOLE COOKE (pictured aged seven)
I won, quite a lot, but at a time when few cared because the national press did not write about my races. But I entered full-time cycling knowing that it was a man’s world. I competed not for fame or money, but because I loved the sport with a passion. I wanted to take part and prove my worth to myself and those close to me.
And that is exactly what the debate should distil down to. Why do it? Sport is about competition among equals. Boxing has weight limits because there would be no contest putting a nine-stone man up against the largest man on the planet. Women’s sport is segregated because, in many disciplines, the larger average form of the male body confers an advantage.
The use of performance enhancing drugs (PEDs) is banned because these also confer an advantage. Studies show that the advantages such drugs offer will often last years after their consumption, in some cases even after a one- or two-year ban has been served for their use. Testosterone is a PED.
To the trans sports argument, I would bring three facts of life of which I have great experience. The first, as I have said, is that cycling is male-dominated with no sense of fairness in terms of events, press coverage and financial rewards. A second is that a person who has spent years consuming large quantities of testosterone or another PEDs will have a significant athletic advantage over one who has not.
Thirdly, no one should expect sports administrators to offer any moral guidance. Sports governance is currently conspicuous by its absence in terms of shaping the debate on trans inclusion in any constructive way.
We need a way forward before the count of fractured young women, whose sporting dreams have been smashed by losing in an unfair competition they cannot win, rises to an unacceptable level. The administrators will certainly not take action before then.
I won, quite a lot, but at a time when few cared because the national press did not write about my races, writes NICOLE COOKE
Currently, sports governance is attempting to merge two groups of people who have been subject to two different hormone profiles during their critical growth periods, into a single competitive group. The authorities are trying, and failing, to level the playing field through the use of one arbitrary physical metric, namely, testosterone levels. But human bodies are different and respond to medication differently. Some trans women athletes will suffer severe loss of condition achieving the required testosterone limit – others will not.
Sport centres on fair competition among equals. Ask a welterweight which he would be more proud of – ten wins against a flyweight or one against another welterweight. If my cycling hero Pippa had transitioned when she was still competing and I had met her when I was the world’s number one female road cyclist, I doubt there would have been a competition. I would very likely have been the flyweight sent to the canvas in the first round.
There must be fairness to both trans and biological females. They must each have their own category so each group can enjoy fair competition on an equal basis. The field in the trans group will be smaller. If the motive to compete is genuine, competing fairly without a circus of discord is surely preferable. It would allow trans athletes to enjoy sport without distraction.
However, if a trans athlete’s true motive is the desire for fame and wealth – to access a subsequent career in I’m a Celebrity, or similar – then a dark path will lie ahead.
For them, it is not the competing that matters, only victory. Where, how and against whom is forgotten. It is similar to the drug-taker’s outlook – and I have met plenty. Damage to others on their desperate and selfish journey, is ignored.
Undoubtedly if trans athletes are put into a separate category, they will not be afforded the financial opportunities that are available to biological females through prize money and sponsorships. Yes, that will be unfair. A fact of life is that, in 2022, the opportunities available to male athletes are not available to their female counterparts. Sporting media remains hugely male dominated. The bias is not as bad as it was when I was ten, but I am confident that it will still be a work-in-progress when I am 70.
Women’s sport is segregated because, in many disciplines, the larger average form of the male body confers an advantage, writes NICOLE COOKE
Sadly, experience tells me that sports administrators – the International Olympic Committee, UK Sport and the like – will prevaricate; they will set up studies and review boards who will delay and obfuscate. Since in the UK, virtually all Olympic sports are publicly funded, politicians need to exercise their power over UK Sport to solve this problem quickly and to let us take an international lead.
A separate category is required. The biological change required for competitive fairness in sport, between both trans athletes and women, cannot be achieved.
If ever you get lost in this debate then harness your inner ten- year-old. You wouldn’t want to compete with the bigger boys and girls. Nor do you want to beat the little ones. That would be worthless. You would want to match yourself against the other ten-year-olds. You love sport for the competition.
My inner ten-year-old loved Robert Millar.
One of the best gifts that I ever received was when Pippa York sent me an actual polka-dot King of the Mountains jersey worn in the men’s Tour de France.
I will hold that dear for the rest of my life. My hero – a trans athlete.
Ask any athlete, why do you want to compete? If the motive is genuine, the competition must be fair. To be fair, trans and biological female athletes must compete in separate categories.
EXCLUSIVE: Nicole Cooke urges cycling chiefs to create a SEPARATE category for trans athletes as British Olympic hero calls for ‘fair competition’ after Emily Bridges was banned from the National Omnium Championships
Olympic champion Nicole Cooke has called on the cycling authorities to create a separate category for trans athletes.
Cooke is the first rider to speak out on the issue following the controversy around British trans cyclist Emily Bridges.
The former world No1 said that it was unfair on both biological females and trans women to expect them to compete against each other.
Cooke, who won gold in the road race at the 2008 Olympics, makes her comments in a column for The Mail on Sunday the day after Bridges was due to race Olympic champion Laura Kenny. ‘There must be fairness to both trans and biological females,’ Cooke says. ‘They must each have their own category so each group can enjoy fair competition on an equal basis.’
Cycling’s ruling body, the UCI, barred Bridges from taking part in yesterday’s National Omnium Championships only on Wednesday, with British Cycling reporting that she needed to wait until her male racing licence expired.
Her entry into the race sparked heated debate last week, with sources telling this newspaper that international cyclists were afraid of speaking out because of the impact on their careers.
Ex-world no 1 cyclist Nicole Cooke believes there should be a separate category for trans riders
Trans rider Emily Bridges was blocked from the National Omnium Championships. Left: Zach Bridges in 2018 before transitioning
Cooke, who also won the Commonwealth road race in a glittering career, said it was unfair for biological females to have to compete against athletes who have profited from the irreversible benefits of male puberty.
The Swansea-born ex-cyclist added that it was also unjust on trans athletes to expect them to compete on a level playing field against opponents over whom they have a clear advantage.
An outspoken critic of doping within her sport, Cooke expressed sympathy with Bridges and said the fault laid with the rules laid down by the sport’s authorities.
The UCI stipulates that a trans woman can compete against biological females as long as they have suppressed their levels of testosterone production to below five nanomoles per litre for 12 months before competition.
‘The authorities are trying, and failing, to level the playing field through the use of one arbitrary physical metric, namely, testosterone level,’ she wrote. ‘But human bodies are different and respond to medication differently. Some trans women athletes will suffer severe loss of condition achieving the required testosterone limit, others will not.’
Cooke (R) says there must be ‘fair competition’ for both biological females and trans athletes
Cooke added: ‘Since in the UK, virtually all Olympic sports are publicly funded, politicians need to exercise their power over UK Sport to solve this problem quickly and let the UK take an international lead.’
The Cyclists’ Alliance, a union for female riders, said the existing UCI guidelines around transgender participation were inadequate.
In a statement it said: ‘We recognise that achieving inclusion across all the strands of the Equality Act is complex.
‘We agree with [UCI president] David Lappartient’s statement that existing UCI transgender guidelines are insufficient.’
The TCA condemned the harassment that Bridges has reported receiving since the prospect of her competing in Derby emerged, saying: ‘The TCA will support Emily Bridges with the kindness, dignity and respect that she deserves.’