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Swimming body announces new policy on gender inclusion

FINA, swimming's international governing body, announced that transgender women will be prohibited from competing in women's events if they started transitioning after beginning male puberty.

BUDAPEST -- FINA, the international governing body for swimming and other aquatics sports, adopted a new gender inclusion policy that prohibits male-to-female transgender athletes who transitioned after beginning male puberty from competing in women’s events.

“We are faced with such a delicate balancing act,” FINA President Husain Al-Musallam said. “We have to protect the rights of all our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events, especially women’s competition and also the past record and achievement of the women.”

Athlete Ally, a nonprofit LGBTQ athletic advocacy group, called the new policy discriminatory.

“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,” Anne Lieberman, Director of Policy and Programs at Athlete Ally, said in a statement. “The eligibility criteria for the women’s category as it is laid out in the policy police the bodies of all women, and will not be enforceable without seriously violating the privacy and human rights of any athlete looking to compete in the women’s category.”

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Last November, the IOC published advice shifting the focus from individual testosterone levels and calling for evidence to prove when a performance advantage existed. The IOC encourages each sport’s international governing body to create its own policies based on its framework.

FINA also plans an “open” category for athletes to be allowed to compete at some of its major competitions “without regard to their sex, their legal gender, or their gender identity.” A working group will be established and spend the next six months preparing to set up the category.

“I do not want any talented athlete to be told that they are unable to compete at the highest level,” Al-Musallam said. “I do not want that discrimination.”

The 24-page gender inclusion policy is detailed here. The specific wording of the policy relating to athletes who transition from male to female:

Male-to-female transgender athletes (transgender women) and athletes with 46 XY DSD whose legal gender and/or gender identity is female are eligible to compete in the women’s category in FINA competitions and to set FINA World Records in the women’s category in FINA competitions and in other events recognized by FINA if they can establish to FINA’s comfortable satisfaction that they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 or before age 12, whichever is later.

FINA defined Tanner Stage 2 as the onset of puberty. The FINA policy states that the male-female performance gap “universally emerges” at the start of puberty due to a 20-fold increase in testosterone for males, while testosterone in females remains low.

“It is a policy that is based on science,” Al-Musallam said. “It is a policy that we need to introduce in order to protect the competitive fairness of our events. However, I completely understand that this a policy that will not be supported by some of our transgender athletes.”

Olympic champion swimmers Summer Sanders and Cate Campbell spoke in support of the policy at the FINA Congress on Sunday.

“I am aware that my actions and words, no matter what I say, will anger some people, whether they are from the trans community or the cisgender female community,” Campbell said in a speech. “However, I am asking everyone to take a breath. Listen before reacting. Listen to the science and experts. Listen to the people who have stood up here and have been telling you how difficult it has been to reconcile inclusion and fairness. That men and women are physiologically different cannot be disputed. We are now only beginning to understand and explore the origins of these physiological differences and the lasting effects of exposure to differing hormones. Women who have fought long and hard to be included as equals in sport can only do so because of the gender category distinction. To remove this distinction would be to the detriment of female athletes everywhere.”

FINA member federations passed the policy with 71.5 percent approval. FINA is the international governing body for the Olympic sports of swimming, diving, water polo and artistic swimming.

In swimming, Lia Thomas transitioned during her college career at Penn, following NCAA rules including 12 months of hormone therapy before being allowed to compete in the women’s category. In March, she became the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I title. Last month, Thomas said that she hopes to realize a longtime goal of competing in the U.S. Olympic Trials.

Under the FINA policy, Thomas is ineligible to compete in major international swimming events in the women’s category.

Thomas has been eligible to seek eligibility to compete in the women’s category in USA Swimming competition, including trials meets.

She needs to meet requirements including a panel deeming that she does not have a competitive advantage from prior physical development, plus a testosterone cap for the previous 36 months. Thomas reportedly began hormone replacement therapy in May 2019.

As of rules in March, Thomas must go through a competition category change process and submit an elite athlete/event fairness application at least 90 days before her first competition.

As of March, Thomas had not started the competition category change process.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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