US swimming bosses change policy on trans athletes


Leaders have received a mixed reaction after issuing a new policy with immediate effect

Governing body USA Swimming has ruled that a three-member panel will decide whether women who have transitioned gender have an unfair advantage when they attempt to compete in female competition against biologically-born women.

The immediate chance in policy, which will also require female athletes to have a testosterone concentration level under 5 nmol/L for a continuous period of at least 36 months, appears to be a response to the controversy around University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas.

Transgender Thomas is understood to have undergone at least a year of testosterone suppression before smashing several records in the female ranks, winning numerous races with an ease that led to a fierce debate around whether National Collegiate Athletic Association rules are fair.

“USA Swimming has and will continue to champion gender equity and the inclusivity of all cisgender and transgender women and their rights to participate in sport,” the organization said in a statement, adding that its mission lies in “fervently supporting competitive equity at elite levels of competition.”

“The development of the elite policy therefore acknowledges a competitive difference in the male and female categories and the disadvantages this presents in elite head-to-head competition.

“This is supported by statistical data that shows that the top-ranked female in 2021, on average, would be ranked 536th across all short course yards (25 yards) male events in the country and 326th across all long course meters (50 meters) male events in the country, among USA Swimming members.

“The policy therefore supports the need for competitive equity at the most elite levels of competition.

“At the non-elite level, an inclusive process has been established by which an athlete can elect to change their competition category in order for them to experience the sport of swimming in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity and expression.

“At the elite level, a policy has been created for transgender athlete participation in the US that relies on science and medical evidence-based methods to provide a level-playing field for elite cisgender women, and to mitigate the advantages associated with male puberty and physiology.

“Elite athletes shall include any athlete who has achieved a time standard and desires to participate in elite events as defined in the policy.”

The announcement is a clear attempt to address arguments across the spectrum of debate on transgender swimmers.

Several noted former athletes have warned that participants born as women face their sporting aspirations being crushed by opponents who have transitioned, pointing to scientific sources and arguing that going through puberty as a male, in particular, confers unfair advantages.

Politicians in several US states have passed legislation outlawing transgender athletes from competing in female sports, while rights campaigners have argued that those bills are discriminatory and prevent everyone having the chance to participate according to their desired gender.

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a prominent equality campaigner and three-time gold medalist for the US at the 1984 Olympic Games, joined others in applauding the develpment.

“USA Swimming deserves our appreciation for prioritizing biological women in new eligibility guidelines,” she said, having overseen the publication of data suggesting that transgender athletes have insurmountable advantages in the pool.

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“Women are prioritized in the purpose of an evaluation and in the new eligibility criteria.”

Others claimed the policy is over-reliant on testosterone measurements and accused Swimming USA of sounding the death knell for women’s sports and showing disdain for females.

Some reports raised the question of whether the rules will now preclude Thomas from being allowed to compete at the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) championships, which she reached by finishing 38 seconds ahead of her nearest rival.

Thomas’s teammates had released a statement supporting her just a day earlier, expressing their “full support for Lia in her transition”.

They said that media claims of parents complaining about Thomas’s involvement and urging the NCAA to revise its rules were “not representative” of the views of the “diverse” 39-woman team. “We value her as a person, teammate and friend,” they added.

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