How Kristen Worley changed the rules on gender verification

27 July 2017 Comments 0

Earlier in the year, I wrote about a wonderful woman we’ve been working with, Kristen Worley.

In case you don’t feel like following the link, Kristen’s story in a nutshell is that she is an elite Canadian cyclist who transitioned from male to female. But the story didn’t end there. With legal support in her home town of Toronto, she single-handedly took on the might of the international sporting world to challenge their definition of gender. The claim was on a human right basis. Kristen’s challenge was that the system in place to verify gender and anti-doping rules related to that was discriminatory.

In my earlier blog, I said ‘watch this space’ because she was on the cusp of an historic legal win which transforms elite sport for gender-transitioned athletes.

I am absolutely thrilled to say that Kristen’s win is now official. (You heard it here first, folks, when I predicted this would be so in February!)

Last week, Cycling Canada, the Ontario Cycling Association and the UCI settled their argument with Kristen about changes to policies, rules and processes surround ‘XY’ female athletes, how gender is verified and the therapeutic use of hormones.

In an official statement, Kristen said:

“Today, I am satisfied that the sport of cycling in Canada and internationally have committed to help advocate for issues facing XY athletes. My vision encourages sport and the Olympic Movement to do what it is supposed to do best: harmonizing and celebrating through sport the magic and enormity of our human diversity.”


This is not a case limited to Canada. It has massive implications across the sporting world, impacting on the UCI, the Commonwealth Games Federation, the IOC and WADA. The UCI has agreed that it will:

“Support an advocacy initiative to encourage sport’s governing bodies, at the highest level, to adopt policies and guidelines that are based in objective scientific research and responsive to the individualized needs of XY female athletes.”

As athletes are the raison d’etre of sports’ governing bodies, let’s hope they learn from their mistakes, accept this outcome and fulfill their duty of care to their athletes.

It may not be the type of sporting victory Kristen dreamed of when she first embarked on a career as an elite cyclist, but it is absolutely huge. And it is a win that will endure for the long-term benefit of other transgender athletes.

Anyone who meets Kristen realises within seconds that she is not only a passionate advocate about these issues, but a knowledgeable one. While there is, of course, emotion and a very human element in the case, Kristen has kept focussed on science and the law, and ensured that her arguments are evidence-based. It involves complex issues that bring together international and national sports, science, gender and human rights.

Bravo to Kristen for her 13-year unstinting advocacy for this outcome. Congratulations also to her legal team, led by Brenda Cuthbert.

It’s deserved. And it’s terrific to see someone #RiseUp, take on the might of world sport – and win.

Earlier in the year, I had the opportunity to talk with Kristen in-depth. Have a listen to my Citizens of Sport podcast with Kristen where she talks very openly about her transition and her battle for recognition.