The FINA, the world’s swimming governing body for international competitions in the sport has banned transgender women from participating in women’s events starting this Monday.
The ban, which will affect NCAA women’s swimming champion and transgender athlete Lia Thomas, has come into effect following widespread debate over the inclusion of trans athletes in women’s sports due to the physical disparity between biological males and females.
According to the New York Post, FINA members adopted the new “gender inclusion policy” with widespread approval on Sunday.
The policy only allows swimmers who have transitioned before the age of 12 to compete in women’s events. The organization additionally proposed an “open competition category” for transgender athletes to participate in the sport.
“This is not saying that people are encouraged to transition by the age of 12,” said a spokesperson for FINA president Husain Al-Musallam in a quote to the Associated Press. “It’s what the scientists are saying, that if you transition after the start of puberty, you have an advantage, which is unfair.”
“They’re not saying everyone should transition by age 11, that’s ridiculous. You can’t transition by that age in most countries and hopefully you wouldn’t be encouraged to. Basically, what they’re saying is that it is not feasible for people who have transitioned to compete without having an advantage,” the spokesperson added.
A spokesperson clarified that there are currently no transgender women competing in elite levels of swimming in an international level. Despite the statement from the organization, the new policy would most certainly exclude the University of Pennsylvania athlete from participating in international competitions.
In addition to the ruling, FINA introduced a proposal for a new “open competition” category to devise ways to include transgender athletes in the competition. The organization is setting up a working group “that will spend the next six months looking at the most effective ways to set up this new category.”
“No one quite knows how this is going to work. And we need to include a lot of different people, including transgender athletes, to work out how it would work,” said the FINA spokesperson. “So there are no details of how that would work. The open category is something that will start being discussed tomorrow.”
The move to ban transgender athletes from participating in women’s events follows recommendations by the International Olympic Committee last November, the AP reported.
Members voted 71.5 per cent in favor of the trans ban following presentations from three specialist groups, including athletes, scientists, and doctors, and a legal and human rights group, all of whom work together to create the policy.
The ruling has prompted outrage from pro-LGBTQ organizations, including Athlete Ally, which called the ruling “deeply discriminatory, harmful, unscientific,” which is “not in line with (the IOC’s) framework on fairness, inclusion and non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sex variations.”
“The eligibility criteria for the women’s category as it is laid out in the policy (will) 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,” said Anne Lieberman, who represents the group.
In addition to FINA, other sports governing bodies are also making new considerations around the inclusion of transgender athletes due to growing concern from female athletes and coaches over the unfairness of including biological males in women’s-only sports.