While the Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) and USA Cycling (USAC) adopted new tougher transgender athlete eligibility rules in 2022, the debate as to what is “fair” has not subsided. It centers around the balance of inclusion, sporting fairness and safety in sport – essentially, whether trans women can compete in female categories without an unfair advantage.
Two athletes, on different sides of the debate, joined the discourse last week.
Recently, United States female cyclists Hannah Arensman was defeated by a trans-athlete at the 2022 USAC National Cyclocross Championships, causing her to break down in tears afterwards. Last week the 26 year-old pro cyclist publicly quit the sport in disgust, joining a long list of athletes filing an Amicus Brief with the United States Supreme Court seeking to ensure fair competition for those born female.
“I have decided to end my cycling career,” Arensman announced on Wednesday 15 March. It “has become increasingly discouraging to train as hard as I do only to have to lose to a man with the unfair advantage of an androgenized body that intrinsically gives him an obvious advantage over me, no matter how hard I train.”
Three days after the Amicus Brief was filed, USAC trans-athlete Tiffany Thomas, born male gender, celebrated her first win of 2023 at the Randall’s Island Criterium in New York on Sunday 18 March. After standing tall atop the podium all smiles, the elite amateur cyclist faced a backlash of threats, intimidation and criticism for competing in a female category, although she did not violate any rules.
The “intent was to intimidate and harass transgender athletes (in this case me) to make our lives as miserable as possible,” the 47 year-old cyclist wrote on Instagram. “Transgender people are humans and deserve respect. Inclusion policies are a work in progress; bullying, harassment, and threats of violence have no place in this process.”
Results-wise, both cyclists are competitive within the Pro/Elite female category, with neither always at the bottom or top. In 2022 the now retired Arensman competed in sixteen races, earning eight Top 5 finishes with one win. Trans-athlete Thomas competed in thirteen, placing mid-pack eight times, third once and scored Did Not Finish (DNF) four times.
Current UCI policies and rules, also adopted by USAC, for transgender athletes competing in male or female categories state:
We are “committed to ensuring that all USA Cycling members have equal access and opportunities to participate in cycling events in a manner that is fair to all competitors while preserving the integrity of the sport and respecting international competition regulations.”
“Those who transition from female to male (FTM) are eligible to compete in the male category upon providing a written and signed declaration acceptable to the UCI Medical Manager. It is the responsibility of athletes to be aware of current WADA/USADA policies and to file for appropriate Therapeutic Use Exemptions.”
“Those who transition from male to female (MTF) are eligible to compete in the female category under the following conditions: 1) The athlete has declared that their gender identity is female; 2) The athlete must demonstrate that their total testosterone level in serum has been below 2.5 nmol/L for a period of at least 24 months; and 3)The athlete’s total testosterone level in serum must remain below 2.5 nmol/L throughout the period of desired eligibility to compete in the female category.”
Still, the debate rages, and maybe one day fueled by athlete data, scientific studies and reasoned thought, better policies will be adopted for all competitors to participate safely and fairly.
Photo Credit: Instagram/ICONS-women, Tiffany Thomas
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