BUDAPEST, Hungary (AP) — World swimming’s governing body has
effectively banned transgender women from competing in women’s
events, starting Monday.
FINA members widely adopted a new “gender inclusion policy” on
Sunday that only permits swimmers who transitioned before age 12 to
compete in women’s events. The organization also proposed an “open
“This is not saying that people are encouraged to transition by the
age of 12. It’s what the scientists are saying, that if you
transition after the start of puberty, you have an advantage, which
is unfair,” James Pearce, who is the spokesperson for FINA president
Husain Al-Musallam, told The Associated Press.
“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 there are currently no transgender women competing
in elite levels of swimming.
The World Professional Association for Transgender Health just
lowered its recommended minimum age for starting gender transition
hormone treatment to 14 and some surgeries to 15 or 17.
FINA’s new 24-page policy also proposed a new “open competition”
category. The organization said it was setting up “a new working
group that will spend the next six months looking at the most
effective ways to set up this new category.”
Pearce told the AP that the open competition would most likely mean
more events, but those details still need to be worked out.
“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 members voted 71.5% in favor at the organization’s extraordinary
general congress after hearing presentations from three specialist
groups — an athlete group, a science and medicine group and a legal
and human rights group — that had been working together to form the
policy following recommendations given by the International Olympic
Committee last November.
The IOC urged shifting the focus from individual testosterone levels
and calling for evidence to prove when a performance advantage
FINA’s “deeply discriminatory, harmful, unscientific” new policy is
“not in line with (the IOC’s) framework on fairness, inclusion and
non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sex
variations,” Anne Lieberman of Athlete Ally, a nonprofit that
advocates for LGBTQ athletes, said in a statement.
“The eligibility criteria for the women’s category as it is laid out
in the policy (will) police the bodies of all women, and will not be
enforceable without seriously violating the privacy and human rights
of any athlete looking to compete in the women’s category,”
FINA said it recognizes “that some individuals and groups may be
uncomfortable with the use of medical and scientific terminology
related to sex and sex-linked traits (but) some use of sensitive
terminology is needed to be precise about the sex characteristics
that justify separate competition categories.”
In March, Lia Thomas made history in the United States as the first
transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming championship, the 500-yard
Thomas said last month on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that she was
aiming to become an Olympic swimmer. She also disputed those who say
she has an unfair biological edge that ruins the integrity of
women’s athletics, saying “trans women are not a threat to women’s
The University of Pennsylvania didn’t immediately respond to a
request for comment from Thomas.
Dr. Alireza Hamidian Jahromi, co-director of the Gender Affirmation
Surgery Center at Temple University Hospitals in Philadelphia, said
12 is an arbitrary age.
“Where did that 12 come from?” he said. “Is that a specific age that
everybody is supposed to have passed through puberty, because it may
not be the case.”
Age of puberty varies for different people, he said.
Other sports have also been examining their rules around transgender
On Thursday, cycling’s governing body updated its eligibility rules
for transgender athletes with stricter limits that will force riders
to wait longer before they can compete.
The International Cycling Union (UCI) increased the transition
period on low testosterone to two years, and lowered the maximum
accepted level of testosterone. The previous transition period was
12 months but the UCI said recent scientific studies show that “the
awaited adaptations in muscle mass and muscle strength/power” among
athletes who have made a transition from male to female takes at
least two years.