UK Sport chief executive Sally Munday has called on governing bodies to be "flexible and accommodating" in their inclusion policies ©UK Sport

UK Sport chief executive Sally Munday has dismissed British Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s argument that transgender women should be barred from competing in female events by stressing the importance of inclusivity and called on governing bodies to be "flexible and accommodating" in their inclusion policies.

British cyclist Emily Bridges has sparked a big debate over the participation of transgender athletes after being denied the chance to compete at the recent British National Omnium Championships.

Bridges, who previously competed in men's events while undergoing therapy, had been given the go ahead to participate in the women’s race by British Cycling only for this decision to be overruled by the International Cycling Union (UCI).

The 21-year-old claims she has been "harassed and demonised", and said she had received "little clarity" regarding her eligibility.

Munday acknowledged that it was a "complex topic" situation but praised Bridges for showing "incredible courage" and "huge determination".

"When you are in the centre of something which is of national interest which this has become then clearly that creates a pressure and environment on any individual," said Munday.

"We must not lose sight of the fact that is a much bigger than a single person.

"We have to have these discussions respectfully because human beings and human experiences are at the centre of this.

"It’s incumbent on all of us to discuss this topic with sensitivity."

Johnson weighed in on the transgender row yesterday when he said that he did not think "biological males should be competing in female sporting events".

"Maybe that's a controversial thing to say, but it just seems to me to be sensible," added Johnson.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson argued that it seemed
British Prime Minister Boris Johnson argued that it seemed "sensible" to ban transgender women from competing in female events ©Getty Images

When asked to respond to Johnson’s comments, Munday said: "With regards to what is said politically, we have been really clear in our guidance.

"It is down to sports to decide and work with their International Federations about what the rules should be internationally and it is down to sports to decide what happens domestically.

"What is really important as a sporting industry that we are inclusive and welcoming and enable everybody who wants to play sport to play sport.

"Where inclusion bumps up against fairness and safety it is down to an individual sport to consider and make the decision that are most appropriate for that sport."

UK Sport joined Sport England, Sport Scotland, Sport Northern Ireland and Sport Wales in establishing guidance on transgender participation through the Sports Councils Equality Group (SCEG) last year following an 18-month investigation.

The SCEG suggested that governing bodies could create "open" or "universal" categories of competition and claimed the current approach required a "reset and fresh thinking".

"Where we were very clear was that it was down to individual sports to use their own guidance and set their own rules around transgender inclusion but, where possible, what we were really encouraging was sports to be creative, flexible and accommodating in their approaches so they can develop really meaningful inclusion policies to consider the needs of all people and all groups and really importantly be transparent in their decision making," said Munday.

UCI regulations require transgender athletes to provide a written and signed declaration that their gender identity is female and demonstrate to the satisfaction of an expert panel that the concentration of testosterone in her serum has been less than five nanomoles per litre for a period of 12 months.

The regulations say the UCI needs to "establish conditions for participation in the sport of cycling, including eligibility categories that protect the health and safety of participants, and guarantee fair and meaningful competition that displays and rewards the fundamental values and meaning of the sport".

A group of cyclists has written to the International Cycling Union calling on it to rescind the governing body’s existing regulations on transgender participation ©Getty Images
A group of cyclists has written to the International Cycling Union calling on it to rescind the governing body’s existing regulations on transgender participation ©Getty Images

UCI President David Lappartient told the BBC last week he was worried about the fairness of competition, adding he believed the existing rules were "probably not enough".

A letter, addressed to Lappartient and other senior UCI officials has been published by a group labelled Union Cycliste Feminine.

A total of 76 retired Olympians, elite cyclists, scientists and researchers have called for the UCI to rescind its existing rules and implement eligibility criteria for the female category "that is based on female biological characteristics."

Sara Symington, head of the Olympic and Paralympic programmes at British Cycling, is among the signatories of the letter.

The letter said female cyclists had been willing to boycott the National Championships to get the UCI and British Cycling to hear their concerns about fairness in the sport.

British Cycling said it was now calling for a "coalition" to address transgender and non-binary participation in elite sports.

"I know British Cycling has been in consistent discussion with the UCI about this issue," added Munday.

"Whilst trans has been around for a long time, elite athlete trans has not been around in volume for a long time.

"For a lot of sports this is relatively new territory, which is why I think it is important that we have respectful open dialogue so we can find right solution for sports.

"I think the most important thing we do is ask the question of any sport have you been through an appropriate process to reach your policy?

"It's really important they consider the information evidence and data available to them and have discussions with their International Federations.

"As new data becomes available to them, that they do keep alive what their policy should be."