BUDAPEST, Hungary — World swimming’s governing body effectively banned transgender athletes from competing in women’s events on Sunday.
FINA members have widely adopted a new “gender inclusion policy” Sunday which only allows swimmers who transitioned before the age of 12 to compete in women’s events. The organization also offered an “open competition category”.
“That’s not to say that people are encouraged to transition at age 12. That’s what scientists say, that if you transition after puberty begins, you have an advantage, which is unfair,” James Pearce, who is the spokesman for FINA President Husain Al-Musallam, told The Associated Press.
“They’re not saying everyone should transition before the age of 11, that’s ridiculous. You can’t transition at that age in most countries and I hope you wouldn’t encouraged to do so. Basically what they’re saying is that it’s not feasible for people who have made the transition to competition without having an advantage.”
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Pearce confirmed there are currently no transgender women competing at the elite levels of swimming.
The World Professional Association for Transgender Health has just lowered its recommended minimum age to start gender-transitional hormone therapy to 14 and some surgeries to 15 or 17.
FINA’s new 24-page policy also includes proposals for a new category of “open competition”. FINA said it was setting up “a new task force that will spend the next six months researching the most effective ways to create this new category.”
Pearce told the AP that open competition will most likely mean more events, but those details have yet to be ironed out.
“Nobody really knows how it will work. And we need to include a lot of different people, including transgender athletes, to figure out how that would work,” he said. “So there are no details on how it would work. The open category is something we will start discussing tomorrow.
Members voted 71.5% in favor at the organization’s extraordinary general convention after hearing presentations from three specialist groups – an athlete group, a science and medicine group, and a legal and human rights – who had worked together to shape the policy following the recommendations given by the International Olympic Committee last November.
The IOC urged shifting the focus from individual testosterone levels and asking for evidence to prove when a performance advantage existed.
FINA’s new “deeply discriminatory, harmful and unscientific” policy is “not consistent with the (IOC’s) framework on equity, inclusion and non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sexual variations,” Anne Lieberman of Athlete Ally, a nonprofit organization that advocates for LGBTQ athletes, said in a statement.
“The eligibility criteria for the female category as set out in the policy (will control) the bodies of all women and will not be enforceable without seriously violating the privacy and human rights of any athlete wishing to compete in the women’s category,” Liberman said.
FINA said it recognizes “that some individuals and groups may be uncomfortable with the use of medical and scientific terminology related to sex and sex-related traits (but) some use of terminology sensitive is necessary to be specific about the sex characteristics that warrant competing separate categories.”
In March, Lia Thomas made United States history by becoming the first transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming championship. She won the 500 yard freestyle.
Thomas told ABC’s “Good Morning America” last month that she was aiming to become an Olympic swimmer. She also took issue with those who say she has an unfair biological advantage that ruins the integrity of women’s athletics, saying “trans women are not a threat to women’s sport.”
The University of Pennsylvania did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Thomas.
Other sports have also reviewed their rules.
On Thursday, cycling’s governing body updated its eligibility rules for transgender athletes with stricter limits that will force riders to wait longer before they can compete.
The Union Cycliste Internationale (UCI) has increased the transition period for low testosterone to two years and lowered the maximum accepted level of testosterone.
The previous transition period was 12 months, but the UCI said recent scientific studies show that “expected adaptations in muscle mass and muscle strength/power” in athletes who transitioned from male to woman take at least two years.
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