Trans women effectively banned from women’s swimming competitions: ‘Deeply discriminatory’

Lia Thomas of the Pennsylvania Quakers shakes hands with a competitor

Elite swimming’s governing body FINA has voted to effectively ban trans women from competing in women’s elite races, stating it will instead create a separate “open category”.

The new policy, which will include Olympic events, was passed with a 71 per cent majority after it was put forward to FINA members.

Transgender athletes must now have “not experienced male puberty” after the age of 12, or “beyond Tanner Stage 2 [of puberty]” in order to be able to compete in women’s swimming competitions.

FINA president Husain Al-Musallam said: “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.

“FINA will always welcome every athlete. 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. I want all athletes to feel included in being able to develop ideas during this process.”

The policy does however fully allow trans men to compete in men’s competitions.

Spokesperson for Al-Mussallam, James Pearce, told the Associated Press that the ban is intended to discourage trans women from women’s sports.

“This is not saying that people are encouraged to transition by the age of 12,” Pearce said. “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.”

Pearce confirmed that are no out trans women currently competing at elite level, and that he has no idea how the open category would work in practice.

“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,” he said. “So there are no details of how that would work. The open category is something that will start being discussed tomorrow.”

The pro-LGBTQ+ group Athlete Ally called the new rules “deeply discriminatory, harmful, unscientific and not in line with the 2021 International Olympic Committee framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations”.

A push to see trans women banned from swimming has intensified since student swimmer Lia Thomas began a successful run in December 2021.

The UPenn swimmer became the first trans athlete to win an NCAA swimming championship in March, finishing in first place in the women’s 500-yard freestyle. She broke several records over four months, ending her college swimming career in March. 

Speaking out against her critics, she told ABC in an interview: “Trans people don’t transition for athletics, we transition to be happy and authentic and our true selves.

“Trans women are a very small minority of all athletes. The NCAA rules regarding trans women competing in women’s sports [allowing them to compete] have been around for 10-plus years.

“And we haven’t seen any massive wave of trans women dominating.”

The swimming ban comes as a wave of American states have enacted bans against trans people competing in sports.

In June, Louisiana became the 18th state to pass legislation banning trans athletes from competing in girls’ and women’s sports after the governor took no action on the cruel bill.

Democratic governor John Bel Edwards’ decision not to veto or directly sign the measure means that the Republican-led state legislature successfully passed the trans sports ban into law. 

Edwards said in a press conference that the legislation was “going to become law regardless of what I did”, according to the Louisiana Illuminator

“Whether it’s intended or not, the effect is to send a strong message to these young people that they shouldn’t be who they think they are, who they know they are, who they believe they are.

“I find that very distressing. I do believe we can be better than that.”