Swimming’s new transgender policy could affect other sports

This week’s ban on transgender women in international swimming and rugby opened the door for track and field to consider following suit, which could turn into a wave of policy changes at the Olympic Games.

Sunday’s announcement by swimming’s governing body, FINA, soon followed a demonstration of support for World Athletics president Sebastian Coe, who was in Hungary for the swimming world championships. He said FINA’s decision was in the best interest of swimming and that his own federation, which oversees track and field and other running sports, would review its policies on transgender athletes and intersex athletes at the end of the year.

“If we are ever pushed into a corner to the point where we are making decisions about fairness or inclusion, I will always fall on the side of fairness,” Coe said.

Experts see this as a sign that world athletics officials may use the FINA precedent to bar all transgender and intersex athletes – the latter referred to by clinical terminology as differences in sexual development. Goes – from competing in women’s events.

FINA’s new policy bans all transgender women from elite competitions if they have not started medical treatment to suppress testosterone production before the onset of puberty or until the age of 12, whichever comes later. USA Swimming rolled out its policy earlier this year, with the idea that it would eventually follow FINA’s lead, but said this week that time would be needed to see how FINA’s policy itself affects .

Track and field should follow the same rules as FINA, Castor Semenya, an athlete with a difference in sexual development, would still be excluded from the race at his chosen distance of 800 metres.

It could also restrict Namibia’s 200m silver medalist Christine Moboma, who is also an athlete with a difference in sexual development and hopes to fight for the title at the world championships in Oregon next month. Currently, the World Athletics rules governing such athletes do not apply to the 200 meter race.

“By the end of this year, I think (World Athletics) will have announced a policy that is similar to swimming,” said Ross Tucker, World Rugby’s science and research advisor. “And they would say that if ever a man has gone through male puberty and got the benefits associated with testosterone, they can’t compete in women’s sports.”

The International Rugby League barred transgender women from women’s matches until more studies allow the sport’s regulators to come up with a cohesive inclusion policy. and the International Cycling Union updated its eligibility rules for transgender athletes last week; This extended the period during which transgender athletes on women’s teams must lower their testosterone levels by two years instead of one.

Football-run FIFA said it is “currently reviewing its gender eligibility rules in consultation with expert stakeholders.”

Individual sports are moving forward due to the framework of the International Olympic Committee that was introduced last November and came into force in March and placed all sports in charge of their own rules regarding testosterone. This replaced an IOC policy that allowed transgender women to compete in the Olympics against other women on hormone replacement therapy for at least 12 months.

The new guidance, which is not binding, recommends that testosterone levels should not determine whether someone is eligible to compete – a stance that World Athletics has not adopted.

Tucker said he expects perhaps the “big four or five” international sports federations to follow FINA’s suit, but not all others – in part because there are many smaller operations that have thorough policies to research. Science and legal do not team up. FINA assigned three groups, Athletes, Science and Medicine, and Legal and Human Rights, to work on its policy.

FINA’s decisions and those of other organizations are likely to be challenged either in court or at the Court of Arbitration for Sport, meaning that associations that adopt a rule need scientific studies and legal funding to support the policy. will be required.

“What swimming did was not easy, and it certainly wasn’t cheap,” Tucker said.

Coe said that FINA “spent $1,000,000 (on legal fees). We’re not FIFA, but we’re not disenfranchised. But there are other sports that are really terrified that if they went down that path, they would Defending it will bankrupt itself.”

Athletes at the World Swimming Championships in Hungary this week refrained from commenting on the new transgender policy.

“I think the question is if you’re a woman out there and you’re running somebody else, like, how would you feel doing that? It’s about fairness in the sport,” said Australia’s Moesha Johnson , who placed fourth in the 1500 meters.

FINA’s decision also left national swimming federations scrambling.

Swimming Australia said it supports fair and equitable competition for all athletes, adding in a statement: “We also strongly believe and the opportunity for all athletes to experience the sport of swimming based on their gender identity and corresponds to the expression.

In the US, the NCAA, which governs college sports, sought clarity from USA Swimming because of transgender swimmer Leah Thomas, who competed on Penn’s women’s team.

USA Swimming created a policy that required evidence that an athlete had maintained a testosterone level of less than 5 nanomoles per liter for a minimum period of 36 months. But the NCAA immediately decided against adopting the rule, which would have disqualified Thomas for the national championships in March, where he won the 500-yard individual title.

When it issued its policy, USA Swimming stated that it would remain so until FINA adopted its policy. In a statement on Wednesday, USA Swimming said it “will now take our time to understand the impact of this international standard on our current policy.”

Thomas has said she would like the Olympics to go ahead; If she does, her time will probably put her in the mix to earn at least one spot at the Olympic Trials for the 2024 Games in Paris.

Tucker said the Thomas case could ultimately be seen as the tipping point in international competition, given the relative paucity of transgender athletes in elite sports.

“People aren’t really very good at understanding an issue until it’s right in front of them as a physical thing,” Tucker said, “they almost have to be punched in the nose before something real can happen.” And Lia Thomas made it real.


AP Sports Writers Ciaran Fahey and Graham Dunbar contributed.

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