Trans athletes condemn ‘transphobic’ swimming ban: ‘This is not about protecting women’s sports’

Lia Thomas

An effective ban on trans women competing in elite women’s swimming events has been roundly criticised.

Swimming’s world governing body, the International Swimming Federation’s (FINA), voted on Sunday (19 June) to adopt a new policy ruling out most, if not all trans women from competing in women’s competitions.

FINA’s new policy dictates that trans women who wish to compete must “have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond tanner stage 2, or before age 12, whichever is later”. Trans women will be free to compete in a new, unspecified “open” category.

The international water sports committee passed the 34-page policy during an extraordinary general congress in Budapest, with 71 per cent of its of 152 members backing it. It was described as “only a first step towards full inclusion” for trans athletes, despite being entirely focused on their exclusion.

Athletes the world over have shared their own thoughts on the new policy, including triathlete champion and US national champion in race walking, Chris Mosier.

Mosier, a trans man who in 2020 became the first out trans athlete to complete an Olympics trial in their true gender, said the policy’s age threshold is “outrageous”.

“To require transgender athletes to ‘complete’ a medical transition by age 12 – particularly when it is increasingly difficult & in some ways nearly impossible to get gender-affirming care – is outrageous & completely unrealistic,” he wrote in a Twitter thread.

“I’m very interested to know who consulted on this,” he continued. “Who was part of the process? FINA stated the athlete group was comprised of ‘current & retired aquatics athletes & coaches (including transgender athletes & coaches). Who put their names on this & who was the science group?”

Spokesperson for FINA president Husain Al-Mussallam, James Pearce, told the Associated Press that the policy is “not saying that people are encouraged to transition by the age of 12”, and rather is intended to dissuade trans women from women’s swimming events.

“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.”

Mosier noted that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has urged sporting bodies to “shift the focus” from testosterone levels to providing evidence for when a performance advantage existed.

The Olympics first allowed trans athletes to compete in 2003. However, the IOC dropped its own overarching trans inclusion policy in November 2020, encouraging sports to set their own rules.

IOC medical and scientific director Richard Budgett told OutSports at the time: “It’s perfectly clear now that performance is not proportional to your endogenous, in-built testosterone.”

Athlete, trans rights advocate and Outsports Karleigh Webb asked the policy’s supporters what could be the “rationale for a departure” from a program with a “19-year track record and sporting results that do not support your hysteria?”

Swimmer and trans activist Schuyler Bailar called the policy “transphobic”, noting that the age limit effectively excludes all trans women and girls in the US.

“This is not about preserving fairness, this is not about protecting women’s sports, it is about excluding trans people,” he said in an Instagram video.

“This is transphobia incarnate and it has to stop”.

Trans campaigner Jackie Turner simply said: “Banning swimmers who are trans is discrimination.

“None of the research on this has been done on elite athletes. FINA have made this decision bc of the misogynistic hate campaign directed at [trans swimmer] Lia Thomas by the anti-trans lobby. Her career has been ruined by this decision.”

Conversely, notorious trans celebrity and former Olympic decathlete Caitlyn Jenner applauded the decision, saying “What’s fair is fair! If you go through male puberty you should not be able to take medals away from females.”

She then said that the policy was “not anti-LGBTQ, but common sense”, thanking those who have supported her previously calls for restrictions on trans women in women’s sports.

FINA president Husain Al-Musallam told the BBC that the organisation was aiming to “protect the rights of our athletes to compete.”

“FINA will always welcome every athlete,” he said. “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.”