Elite female athletes have been speaking up against men competing in women’s sports under the guise of “gender identity”. The issue has gained mainstream attention lately following the high-profile case of Lia Thomas, a male University swimmer who displaced female competitors for an N.C.A.A. title earlier this month. The widespread backlash has resulted in some sports regulating bodies implementing changes to their transgender policies.
On Wednesday, British cycling, UCI, ruled that Emily Bridges, a man, would not be able to compete in the women’s British National Omnium Championship on April 2nd. Bridges had been scheduled to compete against some of the UK’s most elite female cyclists, including Olympian Dame Laura Kenny, the UK's most successful female Olympian in history. In the days leading up to the race, female competitors threatened to boycott the event in Derby, with the support of many high profile athletes and reportedly their coaches and performance team.
Amid the public backlash from athletes, the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) felt forced to review Bridges’ participation. The UCI ruling blocked the male cyclist from racing with women at the British meeting. UCI said that Bridges was not eligible to compete because he is still registered as a male cyclist.
The growing team of female athletes speaking out on fairness in sports include Olympians Mara Yamauchi and Laura Weightman, and women’s shot put champion Amelia Strickler.
British marathoner and two-time Olympian Mara Yamauchi, who told 4W that she has been talking about the matter for years, has become a public voice in defense of protecting women’s sports.
Since 2021, Yamauchi has joined other former athletes like Sharron Davies, Tanni Grey-Thompson, Dame Kelly Holmes, Paula Radcliffe, Alison Sydor, and former Brazilian volleyball player Ana Paula Henkel in speaking about fairness for women in competitive sports.
“The dam is breaking. Athletes are saying #nothankyou to males in female sport,” she tweeted on March 31 after the decision of UCI to ban Bridges from the race. Yamauchi also said that UK National Governing Bodies are now “writing/revising their inclusion policies,” following the UK Sports Councils report on inclusion and fairness published in September 2021.
“I would refuse to race and hope that the other women would stand with me on this.”
British Cycling is also calling for a coalition to understand how sporting bodies can ensure fairness in competing when “transgender and non-binary” athletes are involved, which Yamauchi called “unnecessary.”
She tweeted after British Cycling’s statement: “One piece of advice: LISTEN TO WOMEN! If you had, you would already know all the stuff your statement lists as needing to be done. It’ll save you a lot of work.” Yamauchi also noted the complete absence of any mention in British Cycling's statement of women's sport and female athletes.
Yamauchi soon started highlighting the voices of other high-profile athletes who have spoken out against male participation in female sports categories. “I don’t think people understand the cascade of exclusion that happens when even a single [biological] male competes in the female category,” she told a media outlet.
On Thursday, Olympian Laura Weightman tweeted, “Every human has the right to be who they want to be and the right to compete in sport. However, in sport for competition purposes we must have male and female categories based on biology. We need to protect the biological female category.”
Another athlete, runner Ellie Baker, joined the debate by advocating for a “trans gender category.”
“We may as well just say goodbye to women's sport now if a separate transgender category is not created,” she told the media. “In sport you can't have blurred lines. I would refuse to race and hope that the other women would stand with me on this.”
Sharron Davies, as well as many women’s campaigns and organizations such as Fair Play For Women, Sex Matters and Woman’s Place UK, welcomed the decision of British Cycling to pull Bridges from competing in the female category. “It’s not transphobic to want fair sport, it’s anti female to not!”, she tweeted.
Shot putter Amelia Strickler also showed support for the British Cyclist decision to not allow a man to compete with women. She has been called “transphobic” but she stated that she is a “big supporter of the LGBTQ community.” Strickler wrote that she “firmly believes people should be happy and be their true selves,” but that she also “truly believe(s) sport is for everyone, but we have to separate on biological sex.”
“I hope that this flood of athletes speaking up now will give others the courage to speak.”
“I have been following this debate for several years,” Yamauchi told 4W. “I saw the abuse that anyone who spoke out was targeted with, so I self-silenced.”
According to Yamauchi, two things made her speak up for the first time in June 2021: Sharron Davies tweeting “if you are silent, you are complicit,” and Maya Forstater’s groundbreaking legal case in the UK. “Overturning her tribunal ruling meant views like mine are protected in law,” Yamauchi said of Forstater.
“I am so thankful to Sharron, Maya, and all the other brave women who have been fighting this for much longer than I have; I really applaud their courage. There is strength in numbers now, but that wasn't so a few years back when they began this fight. I hope that this flood of athletes speaking up now will give others the courage to speak.”
The “wave” of athletes speaking — as Mara put it — also includes Olympians Sally Gunnel, Beth Dobbin, Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Jade Johnson, and Emily Diamond, track and field sprinter Seren Bundy-Davies. Many male athletes like Daley Thompson, Kyle Langford, Kyle Sockwell, Andy Turner, Jason Harvey, and Chris Thomlison.
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