FINA prohibits transgender women from competing at elite level

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The swimming organization said transgender women could not compete if they had experienced the early stages of male puberty.

Transgender athlete Lia Thomas of the University of Pennsylvania competes in the 200 freestyle finals at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships Friday, March 18 at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. John Bezmore / AP Photo

The world governing body for swimming effectively banned transgender women from the highest level of women’s international competition on Sunday, sparking a debate over gender and the sport that has left state legislatures and increasingly divided parents, athletes and coaches. divided at all levels.

A vote by FINA, which administers international competitions in water sports, prohibits transgender women from competing until they are in the early stages of puberty or until the age of 12, whichever is later. Do not start medical treatment to suppress the production of testosterone. This Establishes one of the strictest rules against transgender participation in international sports, Scientists believe the onset of male puberty gives transgender women a permanent, irreversible physical advantage over female athletes at birth.

World Swimming will also establish a new “open” category for athletes who identify as women but do not meet the requirement to compete against those who were female at birth.

More than 70% of FINA’s member associations voted to adopt the policy, which was drawn up by a working group established in November that included athletes, scientists, and medical and legal experts. The policy will come into effect from Monday, days after the World Swimming Championships begins in Budapest, Hungary.

“We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness in our events, especially the women’s section at FINA competitions,” said federation president Hussein Al-Musallam. said in a statement,

There are no transgender women competing in the World Swimming Championships.

However, the move that came three months after Thomas became the first transgender woman to win an NCAA Division I swimming championship—she won the 500-yard women’s freestyle—cast a spotlight on the issue. She has said little about her win but recently told Sports Illustrated: “I’m not a man. I’m a woman, so I’m on the women’s team.” She has also said that she hopes to try to qualify for the US Olympic team in 2024. Under the new rule, she would not be eligible to compete there.

During Thomas’s championship season, USA Swimming, the sport’s national governing body, passed new rules that allowed transgender women to compete if they had taken medication that suppressed their testosterone levels continuously for 36 months. The rule puts the organization in line with many other governing bodies, from track and field to cycling, that rely on measuring testosterone levels to determine who competes against female athletes at birth.

FINA’s rules apply only to international competitions, but may guide the thinking of other sports federations dealing with the issue.

On Monday, USA Swimming said it would review FINA policy before deciding to adjust its own rules. “USA Swimming continues to promote inclusivity in our sport while ensuring competitive equity,” the federation said in a statement. “We understand the enormous effort FINA has put in to build their gender inclusion and equity policy; USA Swimming will now take our time to understand the impact of this international standard on our current policy.

Advocates on both sides of the issue said the international swimming body’s move could fuel a growing movement to prevent transgender women from competing in recreational sports as well, while efforts to provide people with full access to the sport may be reduced even if they are assigned gender at birth.

Sports federations have sought to create policies that try to balance science with fair play, inevitably angering people at every level of sport.

“It is very unfortunate that FINA has made this decision,” said Joanna Harper, a medical physicist who has written extensively on gender and sport and advised many international sports federations, including the International Olympic Committee. “Trans women aren’t taking up the women’s game, and they’re not going to.”

Alejandra Caraballo, an instructor at Harvard Law School and an expert on transgender issues, said the FINA rule would give other bodies the green light to pass similar restrictive sanctions as well as require athletes to produce offensive medical records of 10 years or more. will be required. and blood tests.

“It’s an incredibly discriminatory policy that’s trying to fix a problem that doesn’t exist,” Caraballo said, adding that “it’s the result of a moral panic caused by Lia Thomas.”

Anne Lieberman, director of policy and programs at Athlete Alley, a group that supports the rights of LGBTQ athletes, called the regulation “deeply discriminatory, harmful, unscientific” and out of step with the IOC’s guidelines on fairness and inclusion. She said the rules “will not apply without a serious breach of the privacy and human rights of any athlete wishing to compete in the women’s category.”

Athletes can appeal the decision to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, the world’s top sports court, which is based in Switzerland.

The court has in the past upheld the authority of international sports federations to set rules on the classification of athletes based on their testosterone levels. In 2019, the court upheld World Track and Field Federation rules on athletes born with both male and female genitals, which had barred them from competing unless they were taking medication to suppress their testosterone levels. Do not take.

In November, the International Olympic Committee handed over eligibility rules in women’s games to the governing bodies of individual sports. But it also states that “unless the evidence determines otherwise, athletes should not be considered to have an unfair or disproportionate competitive advantage because of their gender variation, physical appearance and/or transgender status.”

Football’s world governing body FIFA said this year that it would continue to allow transgender women to compete. World Rugby has banned transgender women from participating in international competitions since October 2020.

Peer-reviewed studies show that even after testosterone suppression, top-level transgender women maintain a significant edge when running against top biological women, says Michael J., MD, a doctor at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. Joyner, who studies physiology. Male and female athletes.

Men have on average broader shoulders, larger arms, longer torso, and greater lung and heart capacity, and their muscles are denser.

“There are social aspects to the game, but the physiology and biology underpin it,” Joyner said in an interview with The New York Times this year.

Ross Tucker, a sports physiologist who consults with World Rugby, called Thomas a perfect symbol of what could happen if the sport allowed transgender women to compete without restrictions.

That said, there has been relatively little scientific study of elite transgender athletes. And while the role of testosterone in physical strength and stamina is strong, studies have not been able to predict its exact effect on performance.

Last year, world athleticsThe world governing body for track and field, which has imposed stricter restrictions on runners competing in certain women’s events, corrected its own research, acknowledging that it is associated with higher testosterone levels and higher levels of stress among elite female athletes. Could not find a causal relationship between the increase in athletic performance. ,

It is not clear whether Thomas’ performance prompted FINA to pass such strict rules regarding participation.

Thomas, who competed for the University of Pennsylvania, was hailed by supporters as a brave and courageous athlete this year, but his performance also sparked a backlash. Members of her own team complained about her involvement, and a group of swimmers at Princeton University went to the Ivy League commissioner to lobby against her.

Several states have passed laws banning transgender women from competitions. Some states, including Texas, have outlawed medical intervention for young children with infections, which would disqualify them from meeting FINA regulations.

Now the question is whether the strict decision of the swimming federation will have less effect. Harper, who supports sport-specific restrictions on testosterone levels for transgender women internationally, said she was concerned that even local organizations would feel justified in banning transgender athletes. He cited the recent case of a 60-year-old transgender woman who was prevented from participating in a lawn bowling competition.

“Internationally, there are some arguments for doing so,” she said of the sanctions. The danger, she said, is that people making these decisions on a recreational level will “look at FINA and pass these rules on to middle school kids.”

This article is originally from . appeared in new York Times,

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