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Swim England creates ‘open’ category for trans and non-binary athletes

The charity Mermaids has called the update "disappointing."

By Alastair James

Swim England has issued new guidance for trans athletes.
A new 'open category' for trans swimmers has been cancelled at the World Cup (Image: Pexels)

Swim England has become the latest body in sport to issue new advice on trans athletes, opting for a new ‘open’ category.

The policy was announced on Monday (3 April) and will see a ‘female’ category as well as the new ‘open’ category.

The former will be for athletes assigned female at birth. Meanwhile, the latter will be open to trans, non-binary, and anyone not assigned female at birth.

The charity Mermaids has called the update “disappointing.”

In a statement Swim England said the new policy “has inclusion and fairness at its very heart.”

It then said: “the Female/Open categories are utilised as a means to protect fair competition within the sporting pathway.”

For unlicensed swimming competitions, trans or non-binary participants will be able to self-ID. They can also participate in a category that matches their gender identity.

The statement and a supporting explanatory note point to studies that said some trans athletes had performance advantages.

Swim England said that in the decision between “fair competition” and “inclusion,” the former was being “prioritised,” as it was “considered the backbone of our aquatic sports.”

“Whilst Swim England’s existing policy regarding the use of hormonal therapy was found to be effective at reducing performance advantage, it was insufficient to negate it completely and trans females therefore likely retain an advantage over their cisgender peers,” Swim England added.

Monday’s policy update comes as a result of a survey by Swim England.

Of 2,000 members asked Swim England says 86% said fairness should be protected. 74% agreed the best way to do this was with the ‘female’ and ‘open’ categories.

“There was also clear consensus across the leadership groups of our aquatic disciplines that they would be open to a greater level of transgender inclusivity within the sport,” Swim England note.

“We call on Swim England to reverse its decision”

A 12-month review period is now in effect.

The new policy, taking effect from 1 September 2023, will only apply to Swim England competitions, not recreational activities.

Mermaids tweeted on Monday: “We call on Swim England to reverse its decision to ban trans girls from competing with their peers, and make sport a welcome, inclusive space for trans youth.”

Swim England’s update follows World Athletics banning trans women from competing in elite female competitions at international events.

Last year, FINA, swimming’s world body decided to restrict trans athletes in elite women’s competitions.

It was described as “discriminatory” by the Human Rights Campaign among others. Team GB gold medal winner said he was “furious” over the ruling.