British Olympian says trans athletes must compete in separate category

British cyclist Nicole Cooke, who won the gold medal at the Beijing 2008 Olympics, has announced her opposition to transgender athletes in women’s sport, despite being a beloved fan of famous transgender cyclist Pippa York.

In a long comment for the post on SundayCooke recalled her appreciation for cyclist Rober Millar, later living as a woman named Pippa York.

“I’m impressed by the strength of character that it took to make it happen. Of course, I also sympathize with Pippa for spending much of her life in the “wrong” body. I can’t imagine how difficult that private fight must have been,” Cooke wrote.

Despite this admiration, Cooke ultimately believed that transgender athletes have their own category and feared that their inclusion in women’s sport would ultimately detract from the fairness that should be at the heart of any competition.

I got into full-time cycling because I knew it was a man’s world. I didn’t compete for fame or money, but because I was passionate about the sport. I wanted to be there and prove my worth to myself and to those closest to me.

And that’s what the debate should be about. Why do? Sport is about competition on an equal footing. Boxing has weight limits because there would be no competition if a man with nine stones was going up against the tallest man in the world. Women’s sport is segregated because in many disciplines the larger average shape of the male body gives it an advantage.

Cooke ultimately likened the inclusion of biological males to a performance-enhancing drug (PED) because of their exposure to testosterone throughout their development. She dismissed the idea that hormone blockers could somehow reverse this benefit, and berated bureaucratic organizations for not fully acknowledging this reality.

British Olympic champion Nicole Cooke (Jamie McDonald-Pool/Getty Images)

“A person who has used large amounts of testosterone or other PEDs for years will have a significant athletic advantage over someone who has not,” she argued. “No one should expect sports administrators to give moral advice.

“The authorities have tried and failed to level the playing field by using an arbitrary physical metric, namely testosterone levels,” she added. “But the human body is different and reacts differently to drugs. Some trans athletes will suffer severe conditioning when they reach the required testosterone limit – others will not.”

Cooke eventually concluded that the only way forward for transgender athletes is to have their own category, which she says will attract little attention and dramatically shrink the pool of competitors.

“The field in the trans group is getting smaller. When the competitive motive is genuine, fair competition without discord is certainly preferable. It would allow trans athletes to enjoy sports without distractions,” she argued.

“However, if a trans athlete’s true motive is a desire for fame and fortune – to gain access to a later career in ‘I’m a Celebrity’ or something like that – then there is a dark road ahead,” she added. “For them it is not the competition that counts, only the victory. Where, how and against whom is forgotten.”

Cooke’s recommendation for a separate category follows that of tennis icon Martina Navratilova, who said there should be “an open category for everyone and then biological women”.

“So trans women can compete, but they will compete against men. And trans men have a choice,” she said.

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