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.”
“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.”