World swimming body revises rules, bans some men from competing against women

University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas smiles after winning the 100-yard freestyle during the 2022 Ivy League Women's Swimming and Diving Championships at Blodgett Pool on February 19, 2022, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas smiles after winning the 100-yard freestyle during the 2022 Ivy League Women's Swimming and Diving Championships at Blodgett Pool on February 19, 2022, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. | Kathryn Riley/Getty Images

World swimming’s governing body, FINA, has decided to prohibit some men who identify as female from participating in women’s competitions. However, some say the new policy is misguided and further legitimizes trans-ing children at an early age. 

According to The Associated Press, although the revised “gender inclusion policy” announced Sunday bans some men and boys from female-only competitions, it still allows male swimmers who underwent a so-called gender transition before age 12 to compete against female athletes. FINA also put forward the possibility of a co-ed “open competition.”

“This is not saying that people are encouraged to transition by the age of 12. It’s what the scientists are saying, that if you transition after the start of puberty, you have an advantage, which is unfair,” said James Pearce, the spokesperson for FINA President Husain Al-Musallam.

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“They’re not saying everyone should transition by age 11, that’s ridiculous. You can’t transition by that age in most countries and hopefully, you wouldn’t be encouraged to. Basically, what they’re saying is that it is not feasible for people who have transitioned to compete without having an advantage.”

The new policy was adopted following a vote where 71.5% supported the measure after it was proposed to the members of 152 national federations that have voting rights and assembled for the FINA Extraordinary Congress in Budapest, Hungary.

FINA added: "Some individuals and groups may be uncomfortable with the use of medical and scientific terminology related to sex and sex-linked traits (but) some use of sensitive terminology is needed to be precise about the sex characteristics that justify separate competition categories.”

The move comes amid growing consternation among women’s rights activists and campaigners who have argued that males have an unbridgeable competitive edge over females in sports because of the effects of puberty on their bodies.

One example is that of UPenn swimmer Lia Thomas, a man (formerly known as Will) who identifies as trans and broke several women's records and won the 500-yard freestyle race at the NCAA championship finals at Georgia Tech in March. Under the new FINA policy, Thomas would likely not be permitted to compete against women athletes. 

In an interview with ABC’s “Good Morning America” in May, Thomas maintained that he doesn't possess an advantage over women athletes, arguing that “trans women are not a threat to women’s sports.”

Praising the move, Caitlyn Jenner (formerly Bruce) tweeted Sunday: “It worked! I took a lot of heat — but what’s fair is fair! If you go through male puberty you should not be able to take medals away from females. Period.”

Similarly, Sharron Davies, an Olympic swimmer from England who won a silver medal in the 1980 Games, tweeted that she was proud of her sport “for doing the science, asking the athletes/coaches and standing up for fair sport for females.”

“Swimming will always welcome everyone no matter how you identify but fairness is the cornerstone of sport,” she said.

Among those voicing pessimism about the policy change was The Daily Wire commentator Matt Walsh, whose documentary “What is a Woman?” examines the dimensions of gender ideology, including how it impacts women’s sports. 

“Hate to rain on everyone’s parade but this is not the win you think it is. The new rule is that males *who started their ‘transition’ after age 12* can’t compete against females. This will only be used to push for younger ‘transitioning,’” Walsh tweeted Monday.

“The rule should simply be that males don’t compete against females. Period. No caveats. This rule might help protect women’s swimming for a while, but it encourages and validates childhood ‘transitioning’ so it’s a net loss,” he added in a follow-up tweet.

Speaking to the proposed “open” category, Pearce indicated that the details are still being worked out and under discussion.

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