FINA, the International Swimming Federation that is recognized by the Olympics and other major sports organizations for its policies, said on Sunday that it has approved the standards by which transgender athletes compete. It’s likely that the decision was influenced by the effect that transgender collegiate swimmer Lia Thomas has had on the sport.
FINA’a new “gender inclusion policy” will only allow for transgender swimmers to compete as a female only if they completed the process of transitioning before the age of twelve. This means that someone like Lia Thomas, who did not begin transitioning until her junior year of college. Thomas is still undergoing hormone replacement therapy.
Because of Thomas’ stage in transitioning, many have said that she shouldn’t be competing as a woman in sports. Thomas has won first place in many pivotal competitions, much to the chagrin of some of her teammates. Thomas also beat out one of the top female prospects for an NCAA title.
There are others who have come out against the ability of Thomas to compete alongside women. Some of Thomas’ teammates have allegedly said that they are uncomfortable with Thomas’ presence in the women’s locker room. Thomas has not fully transitioned.
Members of the FINA board voted by a margin of 71.5 percent to pass the policy that would in effect ban transgender athletes from competing against biological males and females. FINA said they are looking into forming a third category so that transgender athletes may still compete. They are tentatively deeming it an “open competition policy,” and that “a new working group will spend the next six months looking at the most effective ways to set up this new category.”
LGBT rights groups have already come out against the new policy, saying that “the policy would hurt transgender athletes.”
Athlete Ally, an advocacy group for transgender athletes and their inclusion in sports, posted the group’s stance on the new policy: “FINA’s new eligibility criteria for transgender athletes and athletes with intersex variations is discriminatory, harmful, unscientific and not in line with the 2021 IOC principles.” Athlete Ally went on to say that in order to protect female athletes, all women – including trans – should be included in both professional and high school and/or collegiate sports.
The interim president of the Human Rights Campaign also made a comment on FINA’s decision. They also described the new policy as discriminatory.
However, Caitlin Jenner appeared on Fox News today extolling the value of the new policy. Jenner, herself a transgender woman, has been an outspoken advocate of biological females in athletics. Jenner has said in the past that a transgender woman, particularly those who transition after puberty, have a biological advantage over biological female athletes.
Jenner has offered her personal support of Lia Thomas, but believes she should not be competing with biological females.
While FINA is being criticized for the move, they also made changes to the policy of transgender men. Particularly in the sports Water Polo and High Diving, female-to-male transgender athletes must sign an assumption of risk form. They must also obtain a TUE, or a Therapeutic Use Exemption for gender-affirming treatment including testosterone therapy.
There are also updates to the FINA policy including androgen sensitivity and the level of testosterone in an athlete’s blood.
Some transgender athletes could be disqualified if there is more than the allowable amount in their bloodstream at the time of testing. FINA cites anti-doping policy.
However, FINA does offer an option for those who cannot meet the requirements to compete in the “open events” so that they are not totally disqualified from athletic competition. FINA is working to establish what type of open events would take place in the near future.
Representatives for FINA, including one of the organization’s top physicians, says that FINA worked to provide a fair approach for all athletes. David Gerrard, who is a former Olympian from New Zealand, said that he believes this will still be an issue in the future, but “when it comes to fairness and safety, you’ve got to draw a line in the sand.”
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