In a surprise announcement Wednesday, Brook Watts will be stepping aside as the race director for the 2022 UCI Cyclo-cross World Championships, as well as the 2021 World Cup, in Fayetteville, Arkansas.
The move, effective immediately, comes just three weeks after Watts issued his opposition to a statewide bill, SB-354, from Arkansas Governor Asa Hutchinson that would ban transgender girls and women from school sports teams which aligned with their gender identity.
“It is with the greatest disappointment that I share with the cyclo-cross community today that I will no longer be participating as the race organizer of the 2022 Cyclo-cross World Championships,” Watts wrote in a personal statement. “Additionally, I will not be involved in World Cup Fayetteville.
“The situation in Arkansas remains problematic and unfortunately, I don’t see any satisfactory resolution. I have sincerely, but unsuccessfully, attempted to work out my concerns and differences with constituents. However, regrettably, we were not successful.”
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The World Cup is scheduled to run on October 13, 2021 and Worlds from January 29-30, 2022 in north-east Arkansas.
Cyclingnews reported earlier this month on reactions from Watts and the cycling community to the “Fairness in Women’s Sport Act” in Arkansas, which allegedly protects biological female athletes from competition from transgender athletes who might benefit from higher natural levels of testosterone.
The Arkansas bill applies not only to public schools and universities but also to any private institution or club that would compete against a public school. The bill also allows girls who are 'deprived of an athletic opportunity', or suffer direct or indirect harm, to sue institutions that refuse to comply with the ban.
Tennessee and Mississippi have also passed similar legislation. North Carolina, Oklahoma and Pennsylvania and more than a dozen other states are considering anti-transgender legislation.
In a statement in early April, Watts noted that a threat of a boycott in Arkansas by the NCAA would unfairly hurt a supportive cycling community.
“My passion and commitment to the growth of cyclo-cross in the US has always been front and center. In departing from my position as race organizer, I feel I’ve left a mark by designing a unique World Championship worthy course as well as a cyclo-cross park that will serve aspiring future champions.
"I remain dedicated to continuing to use my position of influence in the cyclo-cross community to fight for equity in racing, and to ensure that the sport is accepting and welcoming to all,” Watts said. He has been involved in the sport of cycling for more than 40 years.
The controversy from the Arkansas legislation is part of a larger examination about how to nurture gender equality between men and women, as well as support and incorporate LGBTQ rights.
Democratic opponents to the anti-trans bills expressed confidence that the actions would be deemed unconstitutional under Title IX, which prohibits discrimination based on sex.
USA Cycling CEO Rob DeMartini took a conservative approach to responding to the Arkansas law earlier this month, saying a boycott of the cyclo-cross events would be 'ceremonial' and have little effect - words he quickly walked back and admitted were 'poorly worded'.
USA Cycling reacted with a statement earlier this month that said, in part, "USA Cycling is unequivocally opposed to any legislative efforts that aim to limit an athlete’s access to competition. We respect the rights of athletes and members of our community who wish to boycott events which take place in those states where this legislation is being threatened or enacted."
The federation also announced it would only consider venues "that welcome all our members" for future USA Cycling National Championships.
The World Cup in Fayetteville is a UCI-sanctioned event that is produced by Flanders Classics.
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