Almost all transexual women would be banned from swimming at the Olympics and other international competitions under new rules announced Sunday by FINA, the organization that administers international aquatic events.
The new FINA rules say trans women can’t compete in aquatics competitions unless they began testosterone suppression treatments before going through the early stages of puberty or by age 12, whichever comes later.
FINA will also create a new “open” category for athletes who identify as women but don’t meet the new criteria. Details about this category will be worked out in coming months, FINA said in a news release.
FINA President Husain Al-Musallam said in the news release that FINA must “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. … 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.”
Sports has been a flash point in discussions of trans rights, especially since trans woman swimmer Lia Thomas of the University of Pennsylvania took first place in the 500-yard freestyle at the NCAA Championships a few months ago. She was allowed to compete under a U.S.A. Swimming ruling that said transgender women can compete if they’ve medically suppressed their testosterone levels for 36 months.
Thomas has said she wants to try out for the 2024 U.S. Olympic team, but she would not be allowed to compete under FINA’s new standard, The New York Times reported.
The FINA rule is stricter than the U.S.A. Swimming standard. It was formulated with input from an athlete group (including trans athletes and coaches), a science group, and a legal and human rights group, FINA said.
According to the science group, male-to-female transition will blunt some effects of testosterone on body structure and muscle function but going through puberty still provides “persistent legacy effects that will give male-to-female transgender athletes (transgender women) a relative performance advantage over biological females. A biological female athlete cannot overcome that advantage through training or nutrition.”
The FINA rule applies to international competitions, but it could influence national sporting organizations, The Times said. U.S.A. Swimming issued a statement saying it would “take our time to understand the impact of this international standard on our existing policy.”
FINA’s decision was immediately criticized by groups including Athlete Ally, which advocates for LGBTQ athletes.
“FINA’s new eligibility criteria for transgender athletes and athletes with intersex variations is deeply discriminatory, harmful, unscientific and not in line with the 2021 International Olympic Committee framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations,” said Anne Lieberman, director of Policy and Programs at Athlete Ally.
Caitlyn Jenner, who won a gold medal while competing as Bruce Jenner in the 1976 Olympics, praised the decision. She’s previously said trans women should not be allowed to compete in women’s events.
“It worked! I took a lot of heat - but what’s fair is fair! If you go through male puberty you should not be able to take medals away from females. Period,” Jenner said on Twitter.