New Transgender Athlete Policies from World Swimming Organization

The world governing body of swimming, Fina, has decided to keep transgender athletes from competing in the elite races of the women’s division. This will be the rule if a given swimmer has gone through any part of the male puberty process. 

Along with this decision is the plan to create an “open” category at competitions for any swimmer whose gender identity is different than the sex they were born with. This new policy passed with 71% of the vote from the 152 members of the Fina board. The move was described as “only a first step towards full inclusion” for transgender athletes. 

According to the policy that was a total of 34 pages, male to female transgender athletes can continue to compete in the women’s category if they have not experienced any portion of the male puberty process beyond Tanner Stage 2. This stage marks the beginning of physical development.

The policy decision was made during a general congress at the ongoing World Championships in Budapest. This move by Fina means that Lia Thomas, the transgender American College swimmer who has said she wants to compete in the Olympics will be blocked from competing in the female category. 

The members of Fina heard reports from a task force that was made of leaders in medicine, law, and sport. 

Brent Nowicki, the executive director, said, “Fina’s approach in drafting this policy was comprehensive, science-based and inclusive, and, importantly, Fina’s approach emphasized competitive fairness.”

Fina’s president, Husain Al-Musallam, said that his organization was attempting to protect the rights of its athletes in competition and fairness. 

“Fina will always welcome every athlete. The creation of an open category will mean that everybody has the opportunity to compete at an elite level. This has not been done before, so Fina will need to lead the way. I want all athletes to feel included in being able to develop ideas during this process,” Al-Musallam said.

Sharron Davies, a former elite swimmer from Great Britain, said that she was proud of Fina. She challenged the leadership of the sport four years ago along with 60 other Olympic medallists. She wrote to the IOC and asked them to do the science before they made a decision. She said that is what Fina has finally done. 

“Swimming is a very inclusive sport, we love everyone to come and swim and be involved. But the cornerstone of sport is that it has to be fair and it has to be fair for both sexes,” Davies said.

Swimming to Stay Inclusive but Fair

She also described how sport by its definition was exclusionary. She said they don’t let 15-year-old boys compete against 12-year-old boys. Davies said that you have classifications in sports that are necessary. 

But “Athlete Ally,” an LGBT advocacy group called the new policy “discriminatory, harmful, unscientific and not in line with the 2021 IOC principles.”

They said if we want to protect women’s sports, we have to include all women.

This decision had the spotlight primarily because of Lia Thomas. She became the first known transgender swimmer to win the highest US national college title.

Thomas swam for the Pennsylvanian men’s team for three seasons and then started hormone replacement therapy in the spring of 2019. Since then, she has broken records for her team.

Some of her teammates and their parents wrote anonymous letters in support of her right to transition, but they did not believe it was fair for her to compete as a woman. 

Fina’s decision highlights their concerns that athletes keep an advantage when they go through any part of male puberty that is not countered by lowering testosterone. 

It just seems hard to argue with that.