Swimming: creating an “open class” the place trans individuals can compete

Swimming aims to become “the first sport” to create an “open category” to allow transgender athletes to compete separately, Husain Al-Musallam, president of the International Federation (FINA) announced Sunday in Budapest.

• Read too: New controversy in the United States after historic victory for transgender swimmer

• Read too: Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas wins US college championship

“I don’t want an athlete to be told that he cannot compete at the highest level,” Al-Musallam said at an extraordinary conference held during the World Swimming Championships.

“I will set up a working group to create an open category during our competitions. We will be the first federation to do so.”

Fina’s decision comes as swimming has been rocked by a controversy over American transgender swimmer Lia Thomas.

Lia Thomas, a 22-year-old male student, in the spring became the first transgender swimmer to win a spring college title in the women's category.


Lia Thomas, a 22-year-old male student, in the spring became the first transgender swimmer to win a spring college title in the women’s category.

The 22-year-old student, who was born male, in the spring became the first transgender swimmer to earn a college degree in the spring.

His mid-March victory in the 500m final sparked widespread debate, his detractors believing that, having competed as a man in the past, Lia Thomas enjoyed an unfair physiological advantage.

“Inclusivity” Policy

At its congress, Fina adopted a new “inclusion” policy, which will effectively exclude many transgender swimmers from elite women’s swimming.

Brent Nowicki, chief executive of Fina, said the organization is determined to keep competitions separate for men and women.

FINA “recognises that some individuals may not be able to compete in the category that best matches their legal gender alignment or gender identity,” he added.

The men’s competition, on the other hand, would be open to everyone. But athletes who were born male and became female will only be able to compete in the women’s categories at the Fina, or set world records, if they become male before puberty.

“Structural” Advantages

Last year, the International Olympic Committee set guidelines on the matter, while asking federations to develop their own “sport-specific” rules.

Fina had appointed three commissions, one made up of medical experts, one of lawyers and the last of athletes, to look into the issue. The medical committee found that men who became women retained advantages.

“Even with hormone suppression, the sexual benefits will be maintained,” said one member, Dr.r Michael Joyner.

“Some of the advantages men gain at puberty are ‘structural’ and not lost to hormone suppression,” said another member, Dr.D Sandra Hunter of Marquette University in Milwaukee.

“That includes things like bigger lungs and hearts, longer bones, bigger feet and hands.”

As for the swimmers, Australian Cate Campbell, four-time Olympic champion, took the floor to defend this position.

“My role is to be here today and tell transgender people that we want them to be part of the greater swimming community… but also to stand here and say… ) + Listen to the science +,” he declared.

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