FINA Votes to Restrict Transgender Women, Add ‘Open’ Category

by Riley Overend 49

June 19th, 2022 International, News

FINA voted Sunday to ban transgender women from competing in women’s categories if they have gone through any part of the male puberty process. At the Extraordinary General Congress held during the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, the global governing body also announced the creation of an “open” category that will be developed in the coming months. 

Transgender women who transitioned after age 12, such as NCAA champion Lia Thomas from Penn, will not be eligible for FINA competitions or world records in female categories under the new policy. A few weeks ago, Thomas said she wanted to swim at the next Olympic Trials

“Male to female transgender athletes and athletes with a 46, XY DSD (disorders of sexual development) whose legal gender or gender identity is female may only compete in FINA competition and set FINA world records in the female category if they can establish they have not experienced any part of male puberty,” said FINA Executive Director Brent Nowicki. “Athletes who want to establish their eligibility under this standard will be required to show that they have suppressed male puberty beginning as from Tanner Stage 2 or at the age of 12, whichever is later. And that they have since continuously maintained their circulating testosterone below the levels of 2.5 nanomoles per liter.”

The term “Tanner Stages” denotes the five stages of puberty during which individuals develop secondary sex characteristics, with Tanner Stage 2 referring to the onset of puberty.

“Federations may choose to accept this policy for their national and age group competition or tailor their policy to their own national laws,” Nowicki added.

The ruling comes two months after Arkansas became the first U.S. state to ban medical treatments for transgender minors. As of April, 15 other states were considering similar bills.

FINA’s guidelines on transgender athletes passed with about 71.5% of the vote after a presentation by a panel of scientists, legal experts, and athletes. The full policy, which takes effect Monday, can be found here.

“Testosterone in male puberty alter the physiological determinants of human performance and explain the sex-based differences in human performance that are clearly evident by age 12,” said Dr. Michael Joyner of the Mayo Clinic. “Even if testosterone is suppressed, its performance-enhancing effects will be retained.”

Legal expert James Drake argued that FINA’s transgender policy met the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s standard of being “necessary and proportionate to achieve a legitimate objective.”

Then Olympic gold medalists Summer Sanders (USA) and Cate Campbell (AUS) shared their perspectives from the pool. 

“We’ve been celebrating the 50th anniversary of Title IV in the United States, and yet, we are still vying for equal opportunity for women’s sports at both the high school and university level,” Sanders said. “We need our aquatic leadership to stand tall with their decision on this rule right now. My kids don’t swim competitively, and I don’t have any connection to aquatic sports in my daily life. Again, I’m here because I was asked, and it’s important for me to be the voice of many. And because I love my sport, and I believe the integrity of women’s sports is vital, and fairness is paramount. 

“FINA has an incredible opportunity to be the leaders in this policy that others can adopt and build upon,” Sanders added. “It’s imperative that FINA embrace this science and preserve the women’s category while exploring how best to provide opportunity for trans women and trans men athletes.”

Campbell echoed Sanders’ support while acknowledging that the decision will likely alienate members of an already-marginalized trans community. 

“I’m aware that my words and my actions, no matter what I say, will anger some people, whether they are from the transgender community or the cisgender female community,” Campbell said. “However, I am asking everyone to take a breath. Listen before reacting. Listen to the science and experts. Listen to the people who have stood up here and tell you how difficult it’s been to reconcile inclusion and fairness. That men and women are physiologically different cannot be disputed. We are now only beginning to understand and explore the origins of these physiological differences, and the lasting effects of exposure to differing hormones. Women who have fought long and hard to be included as equals in sport can only do so because of the gender category distinction. To remove this distinction would be to the detriment of female athletes everywhere.”

The Extraordinary General Congress also featured the election of the first members on the newly-established Aquatics Integrity Unit. Dr. Miguel Cardenal Carro of Spain is the new Chairperson of the Supervisory Council that sits atop the Aquatics Integrity Unit’s structure. Switzerland’s Marc Cavaliero was approved as the new Chief Ethics and Compliance Officer.

Earlier in the meeting, International Olympic Committee (IOC) president Thomas Bach spoke to the congress, commending FINA for its recent reforms while urging the organization to join his UN Sport for Climate Change initiative. 

“Before you get too much praise – that’s also not so good sometimes – so to get you down to earth a little bit, may I invite FINA to add to your reforms and to join the initiative the IOC has undertaken together with the United Nations,” Bach said. “The UN Sport for Climate Action framework that FINA would join, this initiative has about 300 sports organizations worldwide who are joining, who are helping and contributing and taking actions in the fight against climate change. There, I think FINA could be a very good partner in this initiative.”

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1 year ago

I like how Cate Campbell articulates her take on this matter.

Fobby Binke
Reply to  Kat
1 year ago

Yes. Very good.

1 year ago

It’s interesting that the whole idea of sport competition is based on the physiological unfairness. You can be a freak of the nature (taller, stronger, big feet, long arms, endocrine or respiratory system abnormal, etc) that gives you an advantage in competition. And that is what we are actually celebrating in the winners especially if the records got set.
And to those who are weaker by the God’s design we are telling: Such is a life. If you are short forget about medals in high jump. If you have small heart or low capacity lungs forget about athletic competition. Etc.
If it is commonly accept then why the difference in hormone system should be treated differently. We have… Read more »

Steve Nolan
Reply to  Yozhik
1 year ago

For example what is the reason of banning from competition Caster Semenya.

Well that’s just good ole fashioned racism, my ole chap.

Mr. Pancake
1 year ago

FINA doing something right? Never thought I would see the day.

Fobby Binke
Reply to  Mr. Pancake
1 year ago

I know right!

1 year ago

Wait so will women to man trans athletes compete with women??

Reply to  Saad
1 year ago

They can compete with either group, depending on some details regarding any testosterone therapy.

Reply to  Saad
1 year ago

Not if they’re on testosterone otherwise yes.

1 year ago

My conspiracy theory is that trans women exceed expectations because they are competing in a full body suit vs jammers and the extra chest coverage increases speed to close the gap between pre and post transition. The only fair thing will be to bring back full body suits for the male category

Reply to  swimlikeafishdrinklikeafish
1 year ago

Or… and hear me out Cus this might get crazy, biological males that have experienced male puberty before transitioning still retain physiological differences caused by testosterone exposure that provide advantages in endurance and strength based sports! The extra fabric does not explain how an average high-level male can compete with elite females whether transitioning has occurred or not

Reply to  swimlikeafishdrinklikeafish
1 year ago

Well womens suits are definitely somewhat faster but it’s pretty marginal. It’s still just textile material for the upper body. A lot of what makes tech suits fast in the current generation is how they compress and help leg and kick movement and the taping that makes that possible all fits in a mens jammer

Steve Nolan
1 year ago

I’ve thought about writing something longer on this, but it seems like what FINA came up with should be acceptable to everyone. No male puberty, sure, you can swim in the “women’s” category.

But what worries me, is what happens when the first trans athlete comes along that fits these criteria? Could be a trans man or a trans woman, seem almost equally likely if “the science” about this is to be trusted. (Which, who knows where it goes next – the NCAA’s rules were “the science” for more than a decade without issue, but once the first trans woman was fast enough, everyone lost their minds.)

I would expect a fairly similar outcry when the next Lia… Read more »

1 year ago

Win for female sports.
“Athletes who want to establish their eligibility under this standard will be required to show that they have suppressed male puberty beginning as from Tanner Stage 2 or at the age of 12, whichever is later. And that they have since continuously maintained their circulating testosterone below the levels of 2.5 nanomoles per liter.”
It´s like they´re trying to push kids into taking puberty blockers (that causes a lot of dangerous and irreversible effects and stunts their overrall growth) or even more extreme irreversible procedures.
Just for health purposes alone, this shouldn´t be allowed to happen.
Kids under 18 are too young and immature to make this decisions. They´re constantly developing, maturing,… Read more »

Steve Nolan
Reply to  swimswamer
1 year ago

This is incredibly wrong on almost every count. An overwhelming majority of kids that know they’re trans before they’re 18 don’t “change their minds” once they’re 18.

1 year ago

Just like chess, there’s no “Men” category.
Only “Open” category and “Women” category.
The transgender and cisgender swimmer can swim in that Open category.
I think it’s fair.

Reply to  Wirotomo
1 year ago

I wonder what type of mental gymnastics is used to justify segregating men and women in chess? Or are they flat out saying that men are smarter?

Reply to  Saad
1 year ago

There is no segregation. Anyone can play in the Open section. Women tournaments are held to promote chess for women and offer them a competitive field. Chess due to cultural and societal reasons is a male dominated sport in the sense that at the elite level men grandmasters are significantly stronger then their female counterparts.

About Riley Overend

Riley is an associate editor interested in the stories taking place outside of the pool just as much as the drama between the lane lines. A 2019 graduate of Boston College, he arrived at SwimSwam in April of 2022 after three years as a sports reporter and sports editor at newspapers …

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