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Artillery Row

Women will play on

Don’t ask a woman to take herself out of the game

Male athlete Austin Killips has won the “Tour of Gila’”women’s road cycling race in New Mexico. After an overwhelming reaction by the public and female athletes alike, the UCI (International Cycling Union) is reconsidering its policy of allowing trans-identified men to compete in women’s cycling competitions. It says it will undertake further consultation and reach a decision in August. What consultation could possibly be necessary to understand that men competing against women in road cycling, or any other sport, is unfair to those women? It is cruel to female athletes, and every sporting body representing women should call an immediate halt. It is the ultimate act of patriarchal entitlement to steal something from a woman, just because you can. 

A lowered testosterone level does little to negate physical development as a male

The UCI policy as it stands allows a man, identifying as women, to compete in the female race if he has maintained a testosterone limit below 2.5 nmol/L for 24 months. Austin Killips is 27 years old and only began cycling in 2019, shortly before he began hormone replacement therapy. A lowered testosterone level does little to negate the advantages afforded him in his physical development as a male prior to taking HRT. Adult men have secured advantages over women in their muscle development, lung capacity, bone density, the Q angle of the hips, and the ratio of fat to muscle, to name but a few areas. When Killips uttered the magic words “I am a woman”, he was not able to hand back these advantages in exchange for a packet of female hormones. They are banked, baked in, going nowhere. As he marches with the women’s prize money to the bank, female competitors feel the searing injustice. 

Startlingly, the outcry this time has included many commentators suggesting women themselves should boycott their own sports teams to prevent men who identify as women from competing in them. This is an unsuitable suggestion for many reasons, not least because some of the people suggesting such a tactic seem to have little understanding of the incredible work being done by campaigners on this issue such as the Olympic swimmer Sharron Davies and the tennis legend Martina Navratilova. These women have sacrificed their reputations and faced incredible backlash, including being smeared as bigots and “transphobes”, in order to speak out on behalf of younger female athletes who simply want the right to fair competition. 

If the women themselves speak out, they risk even worse. The swimmer Riley Gaines gave voice to the “burning injustice” of the male swimmer Lia Thomas competing against and undressing in front of female swimmers. As a result she was chased, attacked and had to be taken into police protection. Hannah Arensman has ended her career at the age of 24 after her family sobbed as they watched her beaten by Killips in an earlier competition. It was also alleged that Killips had repeatedly pushed Arensman, a claim he denies. 

Asking women to leave the sporting field so that men have women’s competitions to themselves is grossly unfair. Many elite sportswomen began their sporting career as young girls. They have faced and overcome numerous barriers to compete at the higher levels of their chosen sport, including the financial risk which comes with prioritising sport over a more typical career path. Many elite sportswomen must find employment to fit alongside their rigorous training routines to ensure they can afford to compete. Lucrative sponsorship deals, available to elite sportsmen by contrast, ensure that their male counterparts are not required to do the same. 

When cycling competitions are available to women, the attention they receive is often minimal, races not televised and prize money often significantly lower. The Tour of Britain, a men’s road cycling race, is covered live by ITV4, Eurosport and GCN. It achieves an International audience. Its partner race for women, “Women’s Tour” has just been cancelled due to lack of commercial support, despite a fundraising appeal to “rescue” it. Women can’t walk away from events that don’t even take place. By asking women to boycott the sports events they work hard to compete in and establish, you’re asking women themselves to ensure that there will be no more sporting events for them to compete in. 

Cycling was one of the first physical examples of female empowerment for women through sport, offering them freedom to leave the home without a chaperone and giving them a true sense of independence. There was an inevitable objection from men. When women first began to cycle in the late 19th century, men raised concerns that there might be health risks including exhaustion but also, quite ludicrously, dysentery. Men were outraged that women might experience sexual arousal, and so bicycles for women featured cut out saddles but also pedals which ensured that women rode side saddle. No woman would ever have been able to climb mountains in a race like the “Tour De France Femmes” with these ridiculous impediments to free cycling. Women have come a long way since those days, and modern men know it, just as certainly as the men who hung an effigy of a woman on a bike out of a window at Oxford University in 1900 in order to object to the “new woman” gaining a full degree.

Too few elite sportsmen have stood up for the women being cheated

Andrea Dworkin famously said, “Feminism is hated, because women are hated”, and I suspect this is at least part of the problem we now face. Women made space for themselves in the world with their demands and their feminist activism. They gained the right to vote, the right to own property and the right to divorce men. They forced laws that prevented men they were married to from raping them. They created refuges to escape men who were hurting them. They managed to secure public toilets they could use, which freed them from the urinary leash of their time allowed out in public. Time and women marched on, and some women’s rights were taken for granted. Sporting women made some obvious achievements, women circumventing the imposed stereotypes of femininity by becoming more physically powerful and competing with each other. The women’s Euros in 2022 astounded many with the incredible athleticism of the women, and how liberated they appeared. Nothing symbolised this more clearly than when England’s Chloe Kelly took off her shirt and swung it over her head after scoring a goal. Those women are now filling stadiums built for men, and they do it regularly. 

If Dworkin was right, a few men see these advancements as a threat. Being told that there are some areas of women’s lives that men cannot access, being told no, is an affront to these men. When men are able to declare they are women, they can reverse some of these annoying exclusions they face. These men found a solution to pesky feminism. As a result, all too frequently, women are being forced into spaces with these men, who can now enter women’s domestic abuse refuges, become the CEO of a rape crisis centre for women, rape women and still demand to be placed in prison with women. Men can enter women’s toilets and changing rooms and force women to go home again to change or urinate. Men can enter women’s sporting competitions and win them. They can take the prize money and demolish women’s boundaries. 

Outrageously, at the same time, these men will demand public sympathy. Killips has stated that he feels it is “painful to be othered”. The clear reality is that he is “other” than a woman. He is a man with all the sporting advantages that brings. 

How do you win when you aren’t good enough to win as a man? Go and beat the women, take the money and cry victim when called a cheat. How do you erase feminist gains for women? Say you are one. 

Too few elite sportsmen have stood up for the women being cheated out of fair competition. Imagine what would happen if male cyclists refused to get on their bikes for just one stage of the Tour De France this year? What would happen if just for one Saturday, men refused to play Premiership Football? Imagine if the men playing in America’s Superbowl walked off the field for just ten minutes? There would be outrage from sponsors and fans alike, and the financial toll would be too much to bear. It would take just one day or ten minutes. The power to give women back their sport is at the fingertips of sporting men, and they should use it swiftly before it is too late.

No, women will not get off our bikes, out of the pool or off the pitch. Sport is a form of freedom and independence for us. We will not return to our homes or to the past. We will play on. 

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