World Aquatics to trial ‘open’ category for trans swimmers: ‘Our sport must be open to everybody’

World Aquatics has announced plans to introduce an “open category”, in a move it claims will continue to allow trans people to compete in the sport.

Swimming’s governing body, formerly known as FINA, initially revealed plans to create a separate “open category”, instead of permitting trans women to compete in women’s elite races, in June 2022.

At the time, World Aquatics 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.”

The body would “always welcome every athlete”, he added, and the new category meant “everybody has the opportunity to complete at an elite level”.

Speaking at the World Aquatics General Congress on Tuesday (25 July), ahead of the world championships in Fukuoka, Japan, Al-Musallam reiterated that “out sport must be open to everybody”.

According to Associated Press, he said: “I am delighted to tell you today that we are now making plans for the first trial of an open category.”

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He gave no other information but hoped “to be able to confirm all the details soon”, adding: “It was very important that we protected fair competition for our female athletes.”

The governing body has previously banned trans athletes from competing in major events such as the Olympics and world championships, AP reported.

Lia Thomas at a swimming event
Lia Thomas (C) is one of the best-known trans swimmers in the world. (Photo by Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

One of the most notable trans swimmers is American Lia Thomas, the first trans swimmer to win a NCAA Division 1 title, whose name and experience has often been central to the conversation about trans people in sport. Other swimmers include trans men Schuyler Bailar and Iszac Henig.

While World Aquatics appears to be nearing its “open category” trial, it is not the only sporting body to be making such considerations.

World Boxing also announced that it planned to introduce a separate transgender category in 2023, which trans professional boxer Patricio Manuel has described as “dehumanising”.

In the UK, various national sporting bodies have either introduced, or are looking at, “open” categories, including Swim England, British Cycling, British Triathlon, UK Athletics and British Rowing.

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