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Tipsheet

Cycling Race Director Says Trans Athletes Could 'Kill the Sport'

Bernard Papon/L'Equipe via AP Pool, File

Michael Engleman, the director of the Tour of the Gila race, where a transgender athlete took home the women’s overall win, said this week that trans athletes could “kill the sport.”

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Engleman spoke to The Telegraph where he pushed back on policies allowing male athletes who identify as women to compete in women’s sports. Austin Killips, a 27-year-old biological male, took home the overall win in the women’s category. Killips began racing, and transitioning to live as a woman, in 2019, which Townhall covered

“This could kill the sport,” Engleman said. 

“I know how hard it is to get people to put money into a women’s team, at any level,” he added. “And now they’re asking, ‘Is this something I can touch?' What if an athlete says the wrong thing? This is harming the sport. It’s a reality that somebody has to speak about.”

In addition, Engleman said he has been subjected to death threats (via The Telegraph):

The abuse suffered by Engleman and his race staff since Killips’ win has been so severe – “the world changes,” he admits, “when you get a message from somebody saying, ‘We hope you get shot in the face’” – that he spent two days hiking in the Colorado mountains to clear his head. “I’m no hero here,” he tells Telegraph Sport. “There are lots of other people distressed and making threats to quit. I think we’re all thinking, ‘If we decide to give an interview, is this our last day in the sport?' But you have to do this sometimes.”

His overwhelming frustration is that the UCI, by repeatedly kicking the trans controversy down the road, have left others to cop the flak. Engleman asked USA Cycling to put out a statement on Killips’ involvement, but the request was declined “because it was so sketchy to talk about”. Now he fears that the UCI’s suggestion of a trans policy about-turn in August could just be a stalling tactic.

“They have fallen down on the job,” he says. “This has grown and grown, and they hoped it would go away. I had somebody from one federation tell me, ‘Let it blow over for a week and then worry about it at the next race’. That’s not a sustainable model. I don’t know why we have to reach a crisis point before we want to deal with things.”

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Townhall covered last week how Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) announced that it may revise its transgender athlete policy. This announcement came after backlash rolled in when Killips took home the overall win in the women’s race. Previously, the governing body defended its policy allowing him to compete, which Townhall also covered

“The UCI acknowledges that transgender athletes may wish to compete in accordance with their gender identity,” the original statement defending Killips said, according to NBC News. “The UCI rules are based on the latest scientific knowledge and have been applied in a consistent manner. The UCI continues to follow the evolution of scientific findings and may change its rules in the future as scientific knowledge evolves.”

The parameters for male-bodied athletes to compete in women’s events included the maximum permitted plasma testosterone level to 2.5 nanomoles per liter and extending the transition period to 24 months. Bethany Hamilton, a world-reknowned surfer (and subject of the film Soul Surfer) announced recently that she would no longer compete in World Surf League competitions over a similar policy.

Days laters, the governing body issued a new statement, claiming that it would “analyze the current situation” and revisit the policy and unveil a new decision in August.

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“The UCI’s objective remains the same: to take into consideration, in the context of the evolution of our society, the desire of transgender athletes to practice cycling,” the organization reportedly said. “The UCI also hears the voices of female athletes and their concerns about an equal playing field for competitors, and will take into account all elements, including the evolution of scientific knowledge.”

Following Killips’ win, Inga Thompson, a U.S. Olympian and five-time national road race champion, called him “cycling’s equivalent of Lia Thomas,” who was the male-bodied transgender swimmer who competed and won against females last year. Previously, Thomas was an average athlete in the men’s category.

“I have worked with some of the best female cyclists in the world, and I saw them do extraordinary things right from the beginning,” Engleman told The Telegraph. “And here’s somebody who nobody has ever heard of, who in a first UCI stage race [the 2022 Tour of the Gila] comes third. It hardly ever happens. Austin was also third in a time trial on a non-time trial bike. So, it makes you wonder. I’m a performance person. You look at that and you say, ‘That’s not right’.”

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