Home Scandal and Gossip FINA votes to restrict transgender swimmers, seeks to form new open category

FINA votes to restrict transgender swimmers, seeks to form new open category

FINA bans transgender athletes elite women's races
FINA bans transgender athletes competing in elite women's swimming races. Pictured, controversial U.S female transgender swimmer, Lia Thomas.
FINA bans transgender athletes elite women's races
FINA bans transgender athletes competing in elite women’s swimming races. Pictured, controversial U.S female transgender swimmer, Lia Thomas.

FINA bans transgender athletes from competing in elite women’s swimming races, will require strict rules for transitioning swimmers and seeks to set up new open category. 

‘People are starting to speak up and not be cancelled. The atmosphere of fear is slowly being eroded.’ 

The above is the virally up-ticked, sentiment expressed by one commentator on social media after the world’s swimming governing body on Sunday ruled that female transgender swimmers can only compete in elite woman’s races on the condition that they had completed their transition by the age of 12.

FINA, the international federation sports federation for swimming, made its announcement in the growing face of arguments and newly presented evidence suggesting that transgender swimmers who went through male puberty had an unfair advantage against other female competitors who were not the recipients of natural endowment of testosterone that gives males greater strength and physical capacity compared to biologically born females.

The new ruling will require female transgender swimmers to prove to the federation that they have continuously suppressed their testosterone levels from the age of 12 onwards.

Perhaps in a bid to negate criticism of inclusivity in sports, FINA went on to announce that it will now seek to set up an ‘open category’ for transgender athletes to compete against one another at events including the World Aquatics Championships, World Swimming Championships, and Swimming World Cup.

Balancing athlete’s rights to compete vs fairness 

A working group will spend the next six months to determine how the ‘open category’ would function. 

‘We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events, especially the women’s category at FINA competitions,’ FINA President Husain Al-Musallam said in a statement.

Sunday’s announcement has the effect of preventing controversial U.S female transgender swimmer, Lia Thomas, from competing in the Olympics, which she has expressed her desire for after she smashed women’s records and caused a national uproar, with many arguing that she has an unfair physical advantage over her fellow competitors.

The decision to ban transgender athletes was made during FINA’s extraordinary general congress on the sidelines of the world championships in Budapest after members heard a report from a transgender task force comprising leading medical, legal and sports figures. 

They had convened to discuss the issue after the International Olympic Committee urged individual sports federations to create guidance on transgender athletes in November.

At the time, the IOC urged the federations to shift their focus from individual testosterone levels, and called for evidence to prove when a performance advantage existed. 

Husain Al-Musallam, president of FINA, announced the news on Sunday afternoon.

If they can have a para category why not a trans category? 

‘I do not want any athlete to be told they cannot compete at the highest level,’ Al-Musallam told a congress of his organization today.

‘I will set up a working group to set up an open category at our meets.

‘We will be the first federation to do that.’

The new policy will require transgender competitors to have completed their transition by the age of 12 in order to be able to compete in women’s competitions.

It was passed with a 71 percent majority after it was put to the members of 152 national federations with voting rights who had gathered for the congress at the Puskas Arena.

Around 15 percent voted no to the policy on eligibility in the men’s and women’s competition categories, while 13 percent abstained.

Unfair physical advantages

Transgender rights has become a major talking point as sports seek to balance inclusivity while ensuring there is no unfair advantage.

The debate intensified after University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas became the first transgender NCAA champion in Division I history after winning the women’s 500-yard freestyle earlier this year.

Thomas swam for the Pennsylvanian men’s team for three seasons before starting hormone replacement therapy in spring 2019.

A wave of doctors suggested Lia Thomas – and other trans female athletes – will always have an unfair advantage in some sports because they cannot undo puberty, when their biological male bodies were flooded with testosterone. 

They say that one or even four years of hormonal therapy is not enough to reverse what happens to the male teenage body. 

‘There are social aspects to sport, but physiology and biology underpin it. Testosterone is the 800-pound gorilla,’ Michael J. Joyner, the Mayo Clinic doctor, said in an interview with the nytimes

Adding, ‘Body size, hand size, foot size, bone density [are all factors] but the main thing is the interactions of exercise training and muscle.

‘I think that evidence so far would suggest a period of a year, two, three or even four years [of hormone therapy] is insufficient.’ 

Thomas has continued to dismiss concerns about her apparently unfair advantage.

Supporting transgender rights for inclusivity

She said some ‘cisgender’ women – a term used to describe someone whose gender identity is the same as the one they were given at birth –  have more testosterone, bigger hands and feet, and are taller than their competitors. 

Thomas also insisted insisted that she did not transition to perform better in the league tables, explaining: ‘Trans people don’t transition for athletics. We transition to be happy and authentic and to be ourselves. 

‘Transition to get an advantage is not something that factors into our decisions,’ she said. 

‘I don’t need anybody’s permission to be myself,’ she said.

She also said anyone who says she isn’t allowed to compete as a woman is transphobic, regardless of whether or not they support her right to transition. 

‘You can’t go halfway and be like “I support trans people but only to a certain point.’ 

‘If you support transwomen and they’ve met all the NCAA requirements, I don’t know if you can say something like that.’

‘Trans women are not a threat to women’s sport.’

The news comes shortly after the International Cycling Union tightened rules for transgender athletes in a benchmark ruling.

Trans competitors will now have to wait longer to compete after transitioning between genders under the UCI’s ruling, which doubled the period from 12 months to two years.

The body also announced it is halving the maximum testosterone level permitted for trans women to compete in the female category.