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SCIENCE: Lia Thomas Banned from Swimming Competitions as FINA Votes to Restrict Trans Athletes; Immediately Excludes Most Male-to-Females

File photo: Patrick Royle, Shutter Stock, licensed.
The International Swimming Federation FINA, international governing body for professional swimming. Lausanne, Switzerland, October 24 2020. File photo: Patrick Royle, Shutter Stock, licensed.

SWITZERLAND – The International Swimming Federation (FINA), the governing body of international water sports competitions, announced on Sunday that members had voted by an overwhelming majority that transgender women could not compete in women’s elite events unless they could prove that they had “not experienced any part of male puberty.”

Of the 152 national federations with voting rights that make up FINA’s membership, 71.5 percent voted in favor of the origination’s new “gender inclusion policy” that required transgendered male-to-female athletes to have fully transitioned by the age of 12, or they would be ineligible to compete. The minimum threshold for testosterone levels that eligible trans swimmers would be required to maintain was also significantly lowered.

The policy also includes a proposal for an “open competition” category that may be developed in the future that would allow trans athletes a potential forum to compete in.

The decision was made after FINA members heard presentations from scientific specialist groups, who determined that men who transitioned to woman retained distinct physical advantages.


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“Some of the advantages males acquire in puberty are structural and are not lost with hormone suppression,” said Dr. Sandra Hunter of Milwaukee’s Marquette University. “These include larger lungs and hearts, longer bones, bigger feet and hands.”

This policy, which goes into effect Monday, would immediately exclude most male-to-female transgendered athletes from competing in elite international swimming competitions, including controversial University of Pennsylvania women’s swim team member Lia Thomas.

Thomas had competed on the men’s swimming team at UPenn for three years before transitioning to female and joining the women’s team; at that point – despite only ranking in the mid-500s as a man – Thomas proceeded to shatter multiple records as a woman and quickly shot to a number one ranking, igniting a national debate about the fairness of trans athletes competing with biological females.

Thomas – the first transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming championship – had previously harbored ambitions of participating in the women’s competition at the Paris Olympics; the FINA new policy now makes that impossible.

The new policy, according to FINA President Husain Al-Musallam, was “based on real science” and was intended to address the concept of fairness to all swimmers.

“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,” he said. “Of course, I understand why transgender athletes would like to compete in a category of their choice. However, I have an obligation to every single one of our athletes. Equality is also a key principle for us. This is why we are faced with such a delicate balancing act. We have to protect competitive fairness, and also the past records and achievements.”


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