Budapest, Hungary — World swimming’s governing body has effectively banned transgender women from competing in women’s events, starting Monday.
FINA members broadly adopted a new “gender inclusion policy” on Sunday that only allows swimmers who transitioned before the age of 12 to compete in women’s events. The organization also offered an “open competition category”.
“That’s not to say that people are encouraged to transition at age 12. That’s what scientists say, that if you transition after puberty begins, you have an advantage, which is unfair,” James Pearce, who is the spokesman for FINA President Husain Al-Musallam, told The Associated Press.
“They’re not saying everyone should transition before they’re 11, that’s ridiculous. You cannot transition at this age in most countries and hopefully you would not be encouraged to do so. Basically what they’re saying is that it’s not possible for people who have transitioned to compete without having an edge.
Pearce confirmed there are currently no transgender women competing at the elite levels of swimming.
The World Professional Association for Transgender Health has just lowered its recommended minimum age to start gender-transitional hormone therapy to 14 and some surgeries to 15 or 17.
FINA’s new 24-page policy also proposed a new “open competition” category. The organization said it was setting up “a new task force that will spend the next six months looking at the most effective ways to implement this new category.”
Pearce told the AP that open competition will most likely mean more events, but those details have yet to be ironed out.
“Nobody really knows how it will work. And we have to include a lot of different people, including transgender athletes, to figure out how that would work,” he said. “So there’s no specifics on how that would work. The open category is something we’ll start discussing tomorrow.
Members voted 71.5% in favor at the organization’s extraordinary general convention after hearing presentations from three specialist groups – an athlete group, a science and medicine group, and a legal and human rights – who had worked together to shape the policy following the recommendations given by the International Olympic Committee last November.
The IOC urged shifting the focus from individual testosterone levels and asking for evidence to prove when a performance advantage existed.
FINA’s new “deeply discriminatory, harmful and unscientific” policy is “not consistent with the (IOC’s) framework on equity, inclusion and non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity and variations,” Anne Lieberman of Athlete Ally, a nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ athletes, said in a statement.
“The eligibility criteria for the female category as set out in the policy (will control) the bodies of all women and will not be enforceable without seriously violating the privacy and human rights of any athlete wishing to compete in the female category,” Lieberman said.
FINA said it recognizes “that some individuals and groups may be uncomfortable with the use of medical and scientific terminology related to sex and sex-related traits (but) some use of terminology sensitive is necessary to be specific about the sex characteristics that justify competing separate categories”.
In March, Lia Thomas made history in the United States as the first transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming championship, the 500-meter freestyle.
Thomas said on ABC’s “Good Morning America” last month that she was aiming to become an Olympic swimmer. She also took issue with those who say she has an unfair biological advantage that ruins the integrity of women’s athletics, saying “trans women are not a threat to women’s sports.”
The University of Pennsylvania did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Thomas.
Other sports have also reviewed their rules regarding transgender athletes.
On Thursday, cycling’s governing body updated its eligibility rules for transgender athletes with stricter limits that will force riders to wait longer before they can compete.
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has increased the transition period for low testosterone to two years and lowered the maximum accepted level of testosterone. The previous transition period was 12 months, but the UCI said recent scientific studies show that “expected adaptations in muscle mass and muscle strength/power” in athletes who transitioned from male to woman take at least two years.
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