Swimming’s world governing body, FINA, voted on Sunday to limit the participation of transgender athletes in elite women’s competitions and to set up a working group to establish an “open” category for them in some competitions as part of its new policy.
The new policy, which takes effect Monday, requires transgender people to complete the transition by age 12 to be able to compete in women’s competition. The working group will spend the next six months determining how to create a new open category, FINA said.
“This is not to say that people are encouraged to transition at the age of 12. That’s what scientists say, if you make the transition after puberty starts, you have an advantage, which is unfair,” James Pierce, spokesman FINA President Hussein Al Musallam told The Associated Press. “They don’t say everyone should go to 11; that’s funny. You can’t get past that age in most countries, and hopefully you won’t be encouraged. In fact, they say that it is not. perhaps for people who have moved on to competition without having an advantage.”
The World Professional Association for Transgender Health has lowered the recommended minimum age for starting hormone therapy to 14, and for some surgeries to 15 or 17.
The rules will have a major impact on the career of Leah Thomas, who earlier this year became the first openly transgender woman to win the NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming Championship.
Responding to the new policy, she said: “The new FINA release is deeply upsetting. It is discriminatory and will only harm all women.”
Thomas told Sports Illustrated in March that she wants to continue competing after college, with a goal of competing in the 2024 U.S. Olympics.
The IOC has called for a shift in focus away from individual testosterone levels and demand for evidence to support performance benefits.
“Deeply discriminatory, harmful, unscientific” new FINA policy “does not comply [the IOC’s] a framework of fairness, inclusion and non-discrimination based on gender identity and gender differences,” said Ann Lieberman of Athlete Ally, a non-profit organization that advocates for LGBTQ+ athletes, in a statement.
“The eligibility criteria for the female category set out in the policy [will] to control the bodies of all women, and will not be enforced without a serious violation of the privacy and human rights of any athlete wishing to compete in the women’s category,” Lieberman said.
Pierce told the AP that the open competition category will likely mean more events, but those details are yet to be worked out.
“No one knows exactly how it will work,” Pierce said. “And we need to include a lot of different people, including transgender athletes, to understand how this will work. Therefore, there are no details on how this will work. The open category is something that will start being discussed tomorrow.”
The decision was made during the FINA Extraordinary General Congress on the sidelines of the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, after attendees heard from a transgender task force made up of leading medical, legal and sporting figures.
The policy was adopted by a majority of approximately 71% after it was presented to the voting members of the 152 national federations gathered in a congress at the Puskas Arena.
FINA said it recognizes that “some individuals and groups may not be comfortable using medical and scientific terminology related to sex and sex-related traits.” [but] some use of delicate terminology is needed to be precise about the genders that justify certain categories of competition.”
Alireza Hamidian Jahromi, co-director of the Gender Affirmation Surgery Center at Temple University Hospitals in Philadelphia, said 12 is an arbitrary age.
“Where did this number 12 come from? – he asked. “That’s a certain age at which everyone has to go through puberty, because that might not be the case.”
According to him, the age of puberty varies from person to person.
Hamidian Jahromi said the transition includes three stages: social, medical, hormone-related, and surgical.
“Which of these three do they mean? The patient had to undergo surgery by then, which is practically impossible,” he said.
Other sports are also looking into their rules regarding transgender athletes. On Thursday, cycling’s governing body updated its eligibility rules for transgender athletes with stricter restrictions that will force riders to wait longer before they can compete. The International Cycling Union (UCI) has extended the transition period for low testosterone to two years and lowered the maximum allowable testosterone level.
The previous transition period was 12 months, but the UCI stated that recent scientific studies indicate that the “expected adaptation of muscle mass and muscle strength/strength” in athletes who make the transition from male to female takes at least two years.
Information from Reuters and the Associated Press contributed to this report.