The age of men posing as women to secure easy athletic victories appears to be dead in the water, at least in swimming. On Sunday, FINA, the international governing body for swimming, voted to prohibit male transgender athletes from participating in women’s competitions if they did not transition by age 12. There will be a new “open” category established for men who identify as transgender, it also announced. FINA spokesperson James Pearce stated that the decision was an acknowledgment that “it is not feasible for people who have transitioned to compete without having an advantage.”
In response to the decision, U.S.A. Swimming announced it will conduct a review of the new policy and potentially reshape its statutes to conform with FINA. Currently, U.S.A. Swimming allows individuals who identify as transgender to compete in women’s swimming if they have taken a testosterone-suppressing medication for three years. Harvard Law School instructor Alejandra Caraballo said that new restrictions are likely to be imposed on transgender athletes competing in women’s swimming in the United States.
Transgender activists have attacked FINA for creating the new rules. Transgender advocacy group Athlete Ally called FINA’s decision “discriminatory, harmful” and “unscientific.” Human Rights Campaign President Joni Madison declared the regulations to be “a blatant attack on transgender athletes.”
The issue of men competing in women’s competitions was brought to national attention by William Thomas, better known as Lia. Thomas was initially anything but a star swimmer, ranking 554th in the NCAA men’s 200-meter freestyle. But when William began calling himself Lia, he left his female competition far behind. Thomas went from mediocrity to the fastest “woman” in the water overnight.
Meanwhile, Thomas’ teammates were left uncomfortable by his physical presence in the locker room and the nature of his swimming victories. One swimmer noted that Thomas did not cover his genitalia when changing and that her and her teammates’ subsequent discomfort went “ignored by their coach.” In a conversation with Daily Wire commentator Matt Walsh, another of Thomas’ teammates said that Thomas’ victories made the team’s victories feel “tainted.” She alleged that University of Pennsylvania officials support Thomas because he makes it possible for the team to easily win and that they dismissed concerns from female swimmers on the team as “transphobic.” She also claimed that women were offered psychological counseling if they found it hard to accept Thomas as a teammate and that Thomas’ participation was not up for debate.
FINA’s decision leaves the UPenn officials who dismissed the concerns of their swimmers in an awkward position. Thomas, who hoped to compete in the Olympics, now faces the prospect of a fair competition.