A legal challenge from Lia Thomas was dismissed in the Court of Arbitration for Sport Wednesday, and the decision will affect elite and collegiate policy

A legal challenge by 2022 NCAA swim champion Lia Thomas against World Aquatics was dismissed by the Court of Arbitration for Sport on Wednesday.

Thomas filed the challenge in January 2024 in response to World Aquatics policy that bars transgender women from women’s competition. The policy was put in place in 2022 three months after Thomas, then swimming from the University of Pennsylvania, became the first transgender student-athlete to win an individual NCAA Division I title with her victory in the 500-yard freestyle event.

When she filed the case in January, Thomas called World Aquatics policies “invalid and unlawful” and stated “such discrimination cannot be justified as necessary, reasonable, or proportionate to achieve a legitimate sporting objective.”

A three-judge panel dismissed her contention in a 24-page ruling that hinged mainly on a procedural matter in that Thomas has not be a member of USA Swimming, the national governing body for the sport, since the end of 2022.

“Since the Athlete is not entitled to participate in ‘Elite Event’ within the meaning of USA Swimming policy, let alone to compete in a WA competition she is simply not entitled to engage with eligibility to compete in WA competitions,” the ruling concluded. “The policy and the operational requirements are simply not triggered by her current status.”

World Aquatics officials lauded the decision saying it was “a major step forward in our efforts to protect women’s sport”. They also restated their beliefs on their policy, although their claims of scientific and competitive merit, areas that World Aquatics claims were the crux of their policy change two years ago, were not argued the proceedings.

Wednesday ruling further bolsters future NCAA policy that would deny a further Lia Thomas (left) or Sadie Schreiner (right) a chance to compete. (Left photo by Mike Comer/NCAA Photos via Getty Images Right photo by Isaiah Vazquez/NCAA Photos via Getty Images) | Left photo by Mike Comer/NCAA Photos via Getty Images Right photo by Isaiah Vazquez/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

In a statement released via her attorneys, Thomas voiced her disagreement. “The CAS decision is deeply disappointing,” she stated. “Blanket bans preventing trans women from competing are discriminatory and deprive us of valuable athletic opportunities that are central to our identities. The CAS decision should be seen as a call to action to all trans women athletes to continue to fight for our dignity and human rights.”

Athlete Ally founder and executive director Hudson Taylor strongly criticized the ruling to dismiss the case.

“For decades, the International Olympic Committee and almost all Olympic International Federations have required athletes to arbitrate disputes at CAS,” Taylor said. “By dismissing Lia Thomas’ legal challenge against World Aquatics, the CAS has denied her fundamental right to access an effective remedy for acts that violate her human rights. This is a sad day for sports and for anyone who believes that trans athletes should have the opportunity for their experiences of discrimination to be heard and adjudicated like everyone else.”

The immediate effect of this ruling is that the World Aquatics ban, and perhaps those of World Athletics and Union Cycliste Internationale, will be upheld for the present time including next months Olympics in Paris.

The ruling will also have an effect on NCAA policy. With the start of the fall sports season for the 2024-2025 academic year, NCAA eligibility for transgender women student-athletes will follow policies set by respective world and national governing bodies for each sport. A swimmer like Lia Thomas or a track athlete like 2024 NCAA Division III All-American Sadie Schreiner of Rochester Institute of Technology (N.Y.) would not be eligible for women’s competition under the policies to come.