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Trans athletes banned from swimming competitions under new 'discriminatory' policy

A majority of FINA - the world governing body for swimming - members voted for the new policy.

2022-06-20

Words: Alastair James; pictures: Pexels

A new policy from swimming's world governing body has been slammed as "discriminatory" by the human rights organisation, the Human Rights Campaign (HRC)

On Sunday (19 June) FINA announced that it would effectively ban some trans athletes from competing in categories that match their gender identity.

Under the new policy, which takes effect from Monday 20 June, trans women would have to have transitioned by the age of 12 in order to compete in women's categories at competitions and they must maintain testosterone levels beneath 2.5 nmol/L.

"Athletes who have previously used testosterone as part of female to-male gender-affirming hormone treatment (with or without a TUE) but are no longer following that treatment are eligible to compete in the women’s category" so long as FINA are happy that:

- the testosterone use was for less than a year in total (i.e., from the date of first use to the date of last use) and did not take place during pubertal growth and development

- their testosterone levels in serum (or plasma) are back to pre-treatment normal and any associated anabolic effects have been eliminated.

Trans men have to sign a form recognising any risk there may be and/or obtain a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) if they're undergoing treatment involving testosterone or
other anabolic substances

In its release, FINA announced that there are proposals for a new "open category" that will be inclusive of trans athletes. A working group is looking at how to set this up.

FINA President Husain Al-Musallam said; "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.”

Al-Musallam added they "FINA will always welcome every athlete," and that "The creation of an open category will mean that everybody has the opportunity to compete at an elite level."

The HRC has blasted the policy as "discriminatory". Joni Madison, the organisation's Interim President has called it a "blatant attack on transgender athletes who have worked to comply with longstanding policies that have allowed them to participate for years without issue."

It accuses FINA of caving in "to the avalanche of ill-informed, prejudiced attacks targeted at one particular transgender swimmer," referring to US swimmer, Lia Thomas who has been at the centre of the argument on trans inclusion in sport. 

The advocacy group is urging FINA to rethink the policy.

The policy has been welcomed by the likes of Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has said, as reported by the Mail Online, that the decision has been based upon "fairness and inclusion". 

In March, Thomas won the women's 500-yard freestyle event at a competition in the US. In doing so became the first transgender woman in history to win the United States' highest national college swimming title, the National Collegiate Athletic Association.

She would be unable to compete under the new policy which will impact her goals to race in the 2024 Olympics. 

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