CiCLE Classic organiser 'caught in the crossfire' of trans rights debate

Sex-based rights groups Sex Matters and Fair Play for Women bid to fund Women's CiCLE Classic

CiCLE Classic
(Image credit: SWPix)

The organiser of the CiCLE Classic has said that they are "caught in the crossfire" of the trans debate, after two "sex-based rights groups" offered to fund the women's event this year following the former sponsor's withdrawal.

On Tuesday, the major sponsor behind the Women’s CiCLE Classic and the men’s Junior CiCLE Classic withdrew their funding in protest over British Cycling suspending their trans athlete policy.

Peter Stanton said they had many friends and colleagues in the trans community that they would be "letting down if I did not make a stand to show my support for their rights".

On Wednesday, Sex Matters and Fair Play for Women made a formal bid to fund this year's event, guaranteeing the £15,000 shortfall that the race needs to run.

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."

Colin Clews, the race's organiser, told Cycling Weekly on Wednesday that the "offer has been put on hold to have a look at the other options available to us".

He explained that this was because of two reasons: firstly, the organisers are keen to have a long-term deal to secure the future of the race; secondly, if they accepted the deal from the two pressure groups, it could be seen as a "politicisation" of the event.

"We would prefer to try and ensure the event in future years that we have at least a three-year deal on whatever," he said. "To ensure that in 12 months' time we're not back in exactly the same position again."

"Within our organisation, we considered that that to actually merely accept that just straight off was perhaps a little bit premature in terms of looking at the other options that might be available," he continued. "Given the interesting sponsorship of various ways or getting involved in crowdfunding or whatever. 

"It could be interpreted that there was a politicisation of the of the event taking place," Clews continued. "We are simply cycle race promoters, and we just want to get on with our sport, being as fair and as even as possible, presenting a spectacle to the public, something that the competitors want to take part in. 

"We felt that there was a clear potential if we accepted the offer at the moment that we've had, that we could be seen to be taking, you know, an ulterior view than perhaps some of the people that are out there."

Last week, British Cycling announced that it had blocked trans riders from competing after suspending its policy on transgender and non-binary athletes, pending a full review.

The move, announced in a press release on Friday, came a week after Emily Bridges was stopped from competing at the National Omnium Championships by the UCI.

The decision was made due to a difference in the licensing policies between BC and the UCI, according to the organisation, which British Cycling said was "unfair on all women riders and poses a challenge to the integrity of racing".

Bridges has faced intense public scrutiny since Cycling Weekly first published her story last month, and in the intervening period she says she has "been relentlessly harassed and demonised". 

On Tuesday, Stanton told The British Continental that they found the situation "totally unacceptable" and that BC had changed their rules "arbitrarily".

Clews said that the race organisers had been "caught in the crossfire" of the situation.

"We are caught in the crossfire. We're the piggy in the middle on this," he said. "That's really why it's more difficult for us to find a solution, possibly with the funding, but isn't reflected in the diverse views that are being expressed on one side or the other."

He said that Stanton's decision has "shocked" him, and that it came "completely out of the blue".

"We've had a very good relationship over the past five, six years with Peter, he has been fully committed to our aims of presenting top class competition for further women," Clews said. "There was no inkling in advance that this was going to happen. This isn't something that we want to be involved in necessarily, this is a controversy that will no doubt run and run for some time before it's ever resolved. We would have preferred to have been sort of insulated from that. Peter obviously felt that he had a point to make, this was the only way that he was that he felt available to him to make it."

However, he said that he still had "respect" for Stanton and his support of the CiCLE Classic over the years.

"I would stress that, you know, I continue to have respect for Peter, he's obviously a person of principle, and that's what he's actually exercising here," Clews said. "Over five years, he's put his hand in his pocket, come up with £150,000 to make this race run. You can't not have respect for someone who has actually done that, because there are very few individuals around that are likely to do that."

Despite the loss of funding, he said that the response has been "absolutely incredible", and that there are various options being considered.

Clews said that he could not be "critical" of British Cycling in this situation, as "they've been totally supportive throughout the process".

"They understand that we are just caught in this crossfire, and they are trying to assist in whatever ways possible to try and keep us on the road."

The races are scheduled to take place on Sunday June 19, but need the extra money by May 10 in order to keep them going; there have been five editions of the women's race, and seven editions of the junior men's equivalent. The men's race is unaffected.

"I would just stress the fact that, you know, we put on bike races," Clews said. "The politics of it all don't interest us. We want fair competition, we want even competition, and I respect everyone's rights in that way. We're mixed up in it, sadly, rather than impervious to it."

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