Following the victory of American swimmer Lia Thomas in an NCAA Championship in March, FINA, the international body that oversees the sport, decided on Sunday that trans athletes can no longer compete in women’s sports unless they make the transition before puberty. Even then, they would have to undergo a testosterone test.
Instead, FINA will try to create “open” divisions for trans competition, if there is a demand.
“We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive justice in our competitions, especially in the women’s category,” FINA President Hussein al-Moussalam said in a statement.
This was the simplest and fairest solution to a problem that came before the governing bodies knew very well what to do. FINA’s decision is likely to collapse not only in swimming but also in other sports.
World Athletics, which oversees the track and field, has already said it will reconsider its policy, and President Sebastian Coe, who is himself a four-time Olympian, has backed FINA’s approach. Other sports are sure to follow, or at least they should.
In the long run, creating a third section and eliminating the perception that trans athletes are a “threat” or in any way controversial, political or negatively colored, should do more to promote acceptance of the current scenario.
While the issue of transgender athletes has undoubtedly been harassed from time to time by bigotry and talking politicians, this does not mean that the problems were not legal, even for many who are well-meaning and inclusive.
To consider this a zero-sum issue was counterproductive and wrong. This is not a stepping stone to whether or not young people who are going through difficult – and sometimes dangerous – times in their lives should be supported.
You can be 100 percent committed to helping their cause and continue to support FINA’s decision 100 percent.
And if the day comes when trans athletes can excite fans and spectators in their own games without sporting controversy, they will probably work wonders by displaying the same talent, dedication, work ethic and personality as other athletes. They have incredible stories to tell and racing games.
It was clear that Thomas, who was a good but hard-nosed swimmer as a man, had unwarranted advantages despite following all the current guidelines.
Having reached his logical conclusions, where there may be a dozen, or dozens, trans athletes competing in a match, the athletes would be excluded from top matches or even put in physical danger in contact sports such as football and basketball.
“Without eligibility standards based on biological sex or gender-related characteristics, it is highly unlikely that we will see organic females in finals, podiums or championship places,” the FINA policy paper concluded. “And in sports and events involving collisions and missiles, biological athletes would be at greater risk of injury.”
Previously, FINA and other organizations tried to address this by testing testosterone levels. However, her research has shown that obvious advantages can be gained through adolescence as a boy – in the case of swimming things like height, arm length, arm and leg size and so on.
No one wants to stop anyone from swimming. FINA is at work to encourage it. However, not having a truly competitive opportunity for a biological woman could reduce participation as much as anything. Same with any other sport.
“My responsibility is to protect the integrity of women’s sports and we take that very seriously,” said Coe, of World Athletics. “And I have always made it clear: if we are ever pressed into a corner where we judge for justice or inclusion, I will always fall on the side of justice.
“It’s my responsibility, too,” Coe continued. “It’s a social issue, of course. If one of my colleagues here on my team suddenly becomes trans, it makes no difference to me. They will continue to do the same job with dexterity and dexterity the way they were before making this transition.
“This is not possible in sports. “It’s fundamental to performance and integrity, and that, to me, is the big, big difference.”
Coe is right, at least according to current science. So good for FINA that it went up and made the right call. And good for others who will follow their example.
That should have been the solution.
We hope that the same energy from both sides that began to disagree on this issue is now being spent on promoting access to competition and then on celebrating the athletic achievements of both transgender and biological athletes.
That would be a victory for everyone.