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Trans women banned from elite women’s swimming, including the Olympics

FINA says trans women will not compete in the female category if they’ve experience puberty, will create an ‘open’ category.

XII FINA World Championships - Swimming Photo by Mark Dadswell/Getty Images

Trans women who have experienced any part of puberty will not be eligible to compete in elite women’s swimming on the international stage, FINA, the sports’ governing body, said on Sunday.

FINA said in a statement that they had created three working groups — athletes, science and medicine, and legal and human rights — to study the issue of trans inclusion in elite swimming.

“After analyzing the conclusions of these groups, FINA developed a new policy that will apply at all FINA events. The policy will also be followed for world record ratification, wherever the competition took place.”

The new policy got overwhelming support from voting members, with 71.5% of them supporting the policy.

“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,” said FINA President Husain Al-Musallam.

There is one path for trans women to compete in the female category: Take puberty blockers before puberty starts. This, of course, mandates the athlete figure out they are trans before about age 13, live in a place where puberty blockers are legal and get the necessary approvals — parental, medical — to take said blockers.

Any athlete assigned male at birth who does not experience puberty will have to show their testosterone level has consistently been under 2.5 nanomoles per litre. Previously the standard had been 5 or 10 nmol/L, depending on the sports governing body; Trans women on hormone replacement therapy often have a T-level below 1.

USA Swimming had earlier this year created a three-year transition mandate for trans women in the female category, while it waited for FINA’s decision on the topic. Whether this new policy will be adopted for elite competition in the United States is yet to be seen.

FINA also announced the creation of a new third “open” category, which ostensibly would be open to any athlete regardless of sex or gender.

“FINA will always welcome every athlete,” said Husain Al-Musallam. “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.”

This new policy kills any hope of trans women of competing in the female category at the Olympics. Previously, former Penn swimmer and national champion Lia Thomas had expressed an interest in making a run at Team USA for the 2024 Paris Summer Olympics.

It comes on the heels of UCI — the world governing body of cycling — announcing trans athletes must have two years of HRT with the same new testosterone threshold of 2.5 nmol/L.

The policy will be met with both ire and celebration. Some advocates will paint this as discriminatory and an affront to the idea that “trans women are women.” Others will claim victory for the preservation of the female category in sports.