Tory minister Nadine Dorries backs trans swimming ban and urges other sports to follow

Nadine Dorries walks out of Downing Street

Digital, culture, media and sport secretary Nadine Dorries wants other sports to follow swimming’s governing body in barring trans women from women’s sports.

The International Swimming Federation (FINA) effectively banned trans women from competing in elite women’s races on Sunday (19 June), with only those trans women who can prove they have “not experienced male puberty” before the age of 12 allowed to compete.

The new rules will effectively banish most, if not all, trans women swimmers to an “open” category.

Tory minister Nadine Dorries has, unsurprisingly, backed the move, and has said she will urge other sporting bodies to follow suit.

“It is just unacceptable that trans women compete in women’s sport,” Dorries told LBC Radio Sunday (19 June).

“I’ve been of the opinion FINA came to today for a long time, and have discussed this with my own department and established a policy.

“It’s important that those trans women who want to compete can compete, and that they can do so fairly,”

“I’m going to encourage other sports [to do the same],” she added. “We’re about to have a roundtable with all of the sports governing bodies.”

The MP for Mid Bedfordshire said in April she intends to hold a summit on trans athletes competing in British sport to draw up new guidelines. At the time, she said it was “impossible” for trans women to take part in women’s sports.

FINA’s trans women policy is ‘discriminatory, harmful, unscientific’, says activist group

FINA’s general congress voted on Sunday to restrict trans women from participating in the sport after hearing from a working group that included athletes, scientists and medical experts.

The policy was passed by 71 per cent of the 152 national federations days into the FINA World Championships in Budapest, Hungary.

In what amounts to some of the strictest rules against trans people taking part in international sports, the 24-page policy will require trans swimmers to have “not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 [which marks the start of physical development], or before age 12, whichever is later”.

This means that even if trans women have reduced their testosterone levels through medication – a common requirement in other elite sports – they would still be ineligible to compete.

Even then, not all nations even allow trans youth access to drugs such as puberty blockers to pause puberty, while in the UK, young trans people face lengthy waiting times for NHS healthcare.

The policy, which went into effect Monday, will open up eligibility to athletes who have “complete androgen insensitivity and therefore could not experience male puberty”.

There are no restrictions on trans men.

FINA also said the body will form a working group in the next six months to establish an “open” category for trans women in some events.

Lia Thomas in the pool

Former University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas has become a target for transphobes. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

“We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events, especially the women’s category at Fina competitions,” said FINA president Husain al-Musallam in a statement.

“FINA will always welcome every athlete,” added Musallam.

“The creation of an open category will mean that everybody has the opportunity to compete at an elite level. This has not been done before, so FINA will need to lead the way.”

LGBTQ+ groups, however, don’t see it that way.

“FINA’s new eligibility criteria for transgender athletes and athletes with intersex variations is discriminatory, harmful, unscientific and not in line with the 2021 IOC principles,” said Athlete Ally, an American LGBTQ-inclusive sport group, tweeted.

“If we truly want to protect women’s sports, we must include all women.”

The Human Rights Campaigned said FINA had caved into the “avalanche of ill-informed, prejudiced attacks” against trans athletes.

Though there are no openly trans women competing at the world swimming championships, right-wing politicians and pundits alike have made it their mission to prevent trans people from competing at any level.

In the US, trans swimmer Lia Thomas‘ success in the NCAA championship as a swimmer for the University of Pennsylvania was used as cruel justification by state lawmakers to ban trans people from competing in any sport.

More than 160 bills, many being anti-trans sports bans, have been proposed by state legislators this year.

While in the UK, prime minister Boris Johnson said “biological males” should not compete in women’s sports – LGBTQ+ sports groups and actual athletes said he couldn’t be any more wrong on the issue.

“This sudden and discriminatory decision is a blatant attack on transgender athletes who have worked to comply with longstanding policies that have allowed them to participate for years without issues,” said HRC interim president Joni Madison.