Swimming’s world governing body has voted to effectively ban transgender athletes from competing in women’s elite races.
FINA will explore establishing an “open” category for them in some events as part of its new policy.
The new policy was passed with a roughly 71% majority after it was put to the members of 152 national federations with voting rights who had gathered for the congress at the Puskas Arena.
It will require transgender competitors to have completed their transition by the age of 12 in order to be able to compete in women’s competitions.
A statement from FINA said that male-to-female transgender athletes will be eligible to compete only if “they can establish to FINA’s comfortable satisfaction that they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 (of puberty) or before age 12, whichever is later”.
FINA oversees aquatic competitions in swimming, water polo, diving, artistic swimming and open water swimming and high diving.
“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,” FINA President Husain Al-Musallam said. “FINA will always welcome every athlete. The creation of an open category will mean that everybody has the opportunity to compete at an elite level. This has not been done before, so FINA will need to lead the way. I want all athletes to feel included in being able to develop ideas during this process.”
The debate on transgender women in swimming came under a spotlight when University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, who started on the school’s men’s swimming team in 2017, eventually joined the UPenn women’s team in 2020.
At the time of her transition in 2019, the NCAA required that transgender athletes have one year of hormone replacement therapy to be cleared to compete.
In February, 16 members of the University of Pennsylvania’s swim team sent a letter to the university and the Ivy League asking them to not challenge the NCAA’s new transgender athlete participation policies that would prevent Thomas and other transgender athletes to compete. In the letter, they argued Thomas had an “unfair advantage,” and said they supported her gender transition out of the pool but not necessarily in it.
Penn Athletics and the Ivy League maintained their support for the transgender swimmer, and over 300 current and former swimmers signed their names to an open letter defending her ability to compete.