Swimming’s Governing Body to Restrict Transgender Athletes From Competing in Women’s Sports

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The governing body for international swimming approved new policies for transgender swimmers that will go into effect starting on June 20.

In a notice (pdf) on June 19, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) said it will only allow biological male swimmers to compete in women’s events if they have not experienced male puberty and have had puberty suppressed before age 12. They would also have to “continuously [maintain] their testosterone levels in serum (or plasma) below 2.5 nmol/L.”

About 72 percent of FINA members voted in favor of the directive to restrict the participation of transgender athletes in elite women’s competitions and create an “open” category for them.

The debate intensified after University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, a biological male who publicly identifies as a female, became the first transgender NCAA champion in women’s Division I history after winning the women’s 500-yard freestyle earlier this year. The win drew significant backlash from female swimmers, activists, and other athletes, including Thomas’s teammates.

In an interview with Sports Illustrated last month, Thomas expressed the intention to seek a spot on the national women’s swimming team before the 2024 Olympics. The new FINA rule issued on June 19 would block Thomas’s participation.

The new eligibility policy for FINA-backed competitions says that biological male athletes are eligible to compete in women’s sports only if “they can establish to FINA’s comfortable satisfaction that they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 (of puberty) or before age 12, whichever is later,” according to the notice. The governing body added that biological women who claim to be men can fully compete in men’s swimming events.

The organization heard from several doctors and scientists who argued that puberty gives a clear physical advantage to males over females.

By Jack Phillips

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