Fina, the world governing body of swimming, has voted to bar transgender athletes from competing in elite women’s races if they have gone through any part of the male puberty process.
The new policy requires transgender competitors to have completed their transition by age 12 in order to compete in women’s competitions.
Fina will also aim to establish an “open” category at competitions for swimmers whose gender identity is different from their birth sex.
The new policy, passed with a 71% vote from 152 Fina members, was described as “just a first step towards full inclusion” for transgender athletes.
The decision was made during an Extraordinary General Congress at the ongoing World Championships in Budapest.
Former Fina members heard a report from a transgender task force made up of leaders from the medical, legal and sporting worlds.
“Fina’s approach in developing this policy was comprehensive, science-based and inclusive, and more importantly, Fina’s approach emphasized competitive fairness,” said Brent Nowicki, executive director of the governing body.
Fina President Husain Al-Musallam said the organization tries to “protect our athletes’ right to compete” but also “to protect fairness in competition”.
He said: “Fina will always welcome any athlete. Creating an open category means everyone has the opportunity to compete at elite level. This has never been done before so Fina has to lead the way. I want all athletes to feel like they can come up with ideas during this process.”
Fina’s decision follows a move on Thursday from the UCIthe governing body of cycling to double the length of time before a rider transitioning from male to female can compete in women’s races.
The subject of swimming was catapulted into the limelight by the experience of American Lia Thomas.
MarchThomas was the first known transgender swimmer to win the United States’ highest national collegiate title by winning the women’s 500-yard freestyle.
Thomas swam for the Pennsylvania men’s team for three seasons before beginning hormone replacement therapy in the spring of 2019.
Since then, she has broken records for her varsity swim team.
More than 300 collegiate, Team USA and Olympic swimmers have signed an open letter in support of Thomas and all transgender and non-binary swimmers, but other athletes and organizations have expressed concerns about trans inclusion.
Some of Thomas’s teammates and her parents wrote anonymous letters supporting her right to transfer, but added that it was unfair for her to compete as a woman.
USA Swimming has updated its guidelines for elite swimmers in February Allowing transgender athletes to swim in elite events alongside criteria aimed at reducing unfair advantages, including testosterone testing for 36 months before competitions.
Last year, New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard became the first openly transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics in a gender category different from that into which she was born.
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What did the panel of experts say?
dr Michael Joyner, a physiologist and leading expert on human performance
“Testosterone in male puberty alters the physiological determinants of human performance and explains the gender differences in human performance that are thought to be evident by age 12.
“Even when testosterone is suppressed, its performance-enhancing effects remain.”
dr Adrian Jjuuko, an activist, researcher and lawyer
“The policy emphasizes that no athlete is barred from FINA competition or setting FINA records because of their legal sex, gender identity or gender expression.
“[The proposed open category] should not become a category that adds to the already existing discrimination and exclusion of these groups.
“I see this policy as just the first step in fully including and supporting the participation of transgender and gender-biased athletes in watersports, and there is much more to be done.”
dr Sandra Hunter, an exercise physiologist specializing in gender and age differences in athletic performance
“At 14 or older, the difference between boys and girls is significant. This is due to the benefits experienced due to testosterone’s physiological adaptations and possession of the Y chromosome.
“Some of these physical advantages are structural in origin, such as height, limb length, heart size, lung size, and they persist even with the suppression or reduction in testosterone that occurs with the transition from male to female.”
Summer Sanders, former Olympic and world champion swimmer
“That is not easy. There must be categories – women, men and of course a category for trans women and trans men.
“Fair competition is a stronghold and a cornerstone of our community – this approach protects the integrity of the existing sporting process in which millions of girls and women participate annually.”
One of the biggest debates in sport
The debate surrounding the inclusion of transgender women in women’s sport has divided opinion inside and outside of sport.
Many argue transgender women should not compete in women’s sports for any benefits they might retain – but others argue that the sport should be more inclusive.
World Athletics President Lord Coe said the “integrity” and “future” of women’s sport would become “very fragile” if sports organizations misread regulations on transgender athletes.
At the heart of the debate over whether transgender athletes should compete in women’s sport concerns the complex balance between inclusion, sporting fairness and safety – essentially, whether trans women can compete in women’s categories without giving them an unfair advantage or posing a risk of injury to competitors.
Trans women must abide by a number of rules in order to participate in certain sports, including, in many cases, lowering their testosterone levels to a specified amount for a set period of time before competition.
However, there are concerns, as highlighted in Fina’s decision, that athletes retain an advantage as they progress through male puberty that is not addressed by lowering testosterone levels.