British cyclist Nicole Cooke, who won the gold medal in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, has announced her opposition to transgender athletes in women’s sports despite being a beloved fan of famed transgender cyclist Pippa York.
In a lengthy op-ed for the Mail on Sunday, Cooke recalled her appreciation for cyclist Rober Millar, who later transitioned to live as a woman named Pippa York.
“I am in awe of the strength of character that required. I also naturally sympathize with Pippa for having spent much of her life in the ‘wrong’ body. I cannot imagine how difficult that private struggle must have been,” wrote Cooke.
Despite this admiration, Cooke ultimately believed that transgender athletes have their own category, fearing that their inclusion in women’s sports would ultimately take away from the fairness that should be at the heart of every competition.
I entered full-time cycling knowing that it was a man’s world. I competed not for fame or money, but because I loved the sport with a passion. I wanted to take part and prove my worth to myself and those close to me.
And that is exactly what the debate should distil down to. Why do it? Sport is about competition among equals. Boxing has weight limits because there would be no contest putting a nine-stone man up against the largest man on the planet. Women’s sport is segregated because, in many disciplines, the larger average form of the male body confers an advantage.
Cooke ultimately likened the inclusion of biological males to a performance-enhancing drug (PED) due to their testosterone exposure throughout their development. She rejected the idea that hormone-blockers could somehow reverse this advantage and scolded bureaucratic organizations for failing to fully acknowledge this reality.
British Olympic Gold Medalist Nicole Cooke (Jamie McDonald-Pool/Getty Images)
“A person who has spent years consuming large quantities of testosterone or another PEDs will have a significant athletic advantage over one who has not,” she argued. “No one should expect sports administrators to offer any moral guidance.
“The authorities are trying, and failing, to level the playing field through the use of one arbitrary physical metric, namely, testosterone levels,” she added. “But human bodies are different and respond to medication differently. Some trans women athletes will suffer severe loss of condition achieving the required testosterone limit – others will not.”
Cooke ultimately concluded that the only way forward for transgender athletes is to have their own category, which she agreed will attract little attention and dramatically shrink the pool of competitors.
“The field in the trans group will be smaller. If the motive to compete is genuine, competing fairly without a circus of discord is surely preferable. It would allow trans athletes to enjoy sport without distraction,” she argued.
“However, if a trans athlete’s true motive is the desire for fame and wealth – to access a subsequent career in I’m a Celebrity, or similar – then a dark path will lie ahead,” she added. “For them, it is not the competing that matters, only 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 for biological females.”
“So trans women can compete, but they’ll compete against men. And trans men have a choice,” she said.