Trans row spirals as British Cycling sponsor withdraws funding after Emily Bridges debate

Organisers are weighing up whether to accept a sponsorship offer from Sex Matters and Fair Play For Women

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The Emily Bridges row over transgender athletes competing against females has escalated as a sponsor has withdrawn from a British Cycling event over the organisation's transgender policy.

The Women’s CiCLE Classic, part of British Cycling’s Women’s National Road Series, was plunged into doubt this week when Peter Stanton, who helped create the race in 2016, withdrew backing.

Mr Stanton, who has put in excess of £150,000 into the event, said he could not continue to support it after British Cycling suspended its transgender policy in the wake of world governing body the UCI refusing to allow Bridges to compete in Derby.

Organisers of the prestigious Women’s CiCLE Classic are now weighing up whether to accept a sponsorship offer from Sex Matters and Fair Play For Women.

Race director Colin Clews welcomed the offer but said he must consider whether accepting it would risk a politicisation of the event amid the debate which has swirled since Ms Bridges was prevented from competing at the National Omnium Championships earlier this month.

Mr Clews said: “It is so sad that we’ve suddenly come to this point.

Transgender cyclist Emily Bridges
Transgender cyclist Emily Bridges
Fair Play for Women made the announcement they put in a bid to sponsor the event on social media
Fair Play for Women made the announcement they put in a bid to sponsor the event on social media

“The last thing we want is to lose the event, which is very well regarded with a strong reputation.”

Mr Stanton told the British Continental: “Whilst fully supportive of women’s sport, I also have many friends and colleagues within the transgender community whom I feel that I would be letting down if I did not make a stand to show my support for their rights."

His exit left Mr Clews with a £15,000 shortfall to fill this year, and he has set a deadline of May 10 to find the cash or face pulling the plug on the event, scheduled to take place on June 19.

In their joint offer, Sex Matters and Fair Play for Women highlighted the importance of the race on the women’s calendar while reiterating their opposition to transgender athletes competing in women’s events.

Dr Emma Hilton, a director of Sex Matters, said: “Fairness in sports is integral, and female cyclists need their own races that exclude males.

“This event has previously showcased our best female cyclists, and we are keen to play a part in securing the right for these brilliant women to race fairly and competitively.”

In the wake of the offer being announced, a tweet from the race indicated there would be a 2022 edition following a “phenomenal response” to their plea for backing.

Mr Clews said the pitch from Sex Matters and Fair Play for Women was the “only firm offer on the table” that would meet the full shortfall in funding, but explained concerns he has raised with the organisations behind it.

He added: “There is a feeling that the groups that have made the offer – their involvement with the event could lead to, whether openly or covertly, a politicisation of the event and at the end of the day we are promoters of cycling events, that is our raison d’etre.

“We want to put on high-quality events for men and women. We’ve had a great deal of success in that forum and what we wouldn’t wish to happen is for any of our events to be used in a manner that is inconsistent with our aims of putting on high quality sporting events that are fair to all who take part.”

After a day in which his answerphone and inbox were filled with offers of help, Mr Clews indicated crowdfunding could be an option though it would be a high-risk one, and one that would not offer the long-term security he wants for the race.

Mr Clews also thanked Mr Stanton for his support to date and said he remains on good terms with him with the hope of working together in the future.