World swimming’s governing body has banned transgender women from competing in women’s events, effective Monday.
FINA members widely adopted a new “gender inclusion policy” on Sunday that would only allow swimmers who moved before the age of 12 to compete in women’s events. The organization also proposed an “open competition category”.
“This does not mean that people are encouraged to switch by age 12. It is what the scientists say, if you switch after the onset of puberty, you have an advantage, which is unfair,” said James Pearce, a spokesman for the FINA President. Hussein Al-Muslim for the Associated Press.
“They’re not saying everyone should move by the age of 11, that’s ridiculous. You can’t move by that age in most countries and we hope you’re not encouraged to. Basically, what they’re saying is that it’s not feasible for people who have transitioned into competition without getting on feature.”
Pierce emphasized that there are currently no transgender women competing at the elite levels of swimming.
The World Professional Association for Transgender Health has just lowered the minimum recommended age to start treatment with gender transition hormone therapy to 14 years and some surgeries to 15 or 17 years.
FINA’s new 24-page policy proposed a new “open competition” category. The organization said it was creating “a new working group that will spend the next six months researching the most effective ways to create this new category.”
Pierce told the AP that the open competition will likely mean more events, but those details still need to be worked out.
“No one quite knows how this would work. We need to include a lot of different people, including transgender athletes, to see how it works,” he said. “So there are no details on how that would work. The open category is something he will start discussing tomorrow.”
Members voted 71.5% in favor of the organization’s extraordinary general conference after hearing presentations from three specialist groups – a sports group, a science and medicine group and a legal and rights group – that were working together to shape policy following recommendations made by the International Olympic Committee last November.
The IOC has urged a shift in focus from individual testosterone levels and advocate for a demonstrated performance advantage.
FINA’s new policy that is “highly discriminatory, harmful and unscientific” “is not in line with the (IOC) framework on fairness, inclusion and non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity and gender differences,” Ann Lieberman of Athlete Ally, a nonprofit organization that advocates for LGBTQ athletes, said in a statement.
“The eligibility criteria for the women’s category as set forth in the policy (will) monitor the bodies of all women, and would not be enforceable without a serious violation of the privacy and human rights of any athlete looking to compete in the women’s category,” Lieberman said.
FINA said it recognizes “that some individuals and groups may be uncomfortable with the use of medical and scientific terms relating to gender and gender-related traits (but) some use of sensitive terms is needed to be precise about sexual characteristics that justify separate classifications.”
In March, Leah Thomas made history in the United States as the first transgender woman to win the 500-yard freestyle championship.
Thomas said last month on ABC’s “Good Morning America” that she was aiming to become an Olympic swimmer. She also opposed those who say it has an unfair biological advantage that destroys the integrity of women’s athletics, saying, “Transgender women do not pose a threat to women’s sports.”
The University of Pennsylvania did not immediately respond to a request for comment from Thomas.
Dr. Alireza Humaidan Jahromi, co-director of the Center for Gender Confirmation Surgery at Temple University Hospitals in Philadelphia, said 12 is an arbitrary age.
“Where did these 12 come from?” He said. “Is that a specific age that everyone is supposed to have gone through at puberty, because it might not be.”
He said that the age of puberty varies for different people.
Humaidan Jahromi said the transformation includes three phases: social, medical, including hormones, and surgical. “Which of these three do they mean? The patient must have had surgery by then, which is almost impossible,” he said.
Other sports are checking their rules regarding transgender athletes.
On Thursday, cycling’s governing body updated its eligibility rules for transgender athletes with stricter restrictions that will force riders to wait longer before they can compete.
The UCI increased the transition period on low testosterone to two years, and lowered the maximum acceptable level of testosterone. The previous transition period was 12 months, but the UCI said recent scientific studies show that “anticipated adaptations in muscle mass and muscle strength/strength” among athletes who transition from male to female take at least two years.
Honolulu-based reporter Jennifer Cinco Kelleher contributed to this report.
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