A group consisting of 16 athletes on the University of Pennsylvania women’s swimming and diving team and their families have issued an open letter to UPenn and the Ivy League asking them to abide by the new transgender guidelines put in place by USA Swimming and not to engage in legal action.
The group, organized by three-time Olympic gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar, sent the letter early Thursday morning asking UPenn and the Ivy League “to support us as biological women” and not engage the NCAA in legal action in an effort to challenge the new protocols.
Hogshead-Makar says that the swimmers wrote the letter themselves, though both Hogshead-Makar, an organized group of parents, and other athletes, made edits before arriving at the final draft.
There are currently 41 athletes listed on Penn’s women’s swimming and diving roster, indicating this group consists of approximately 39 percent of the team.
The NCAA Board of Governors updated the organization’s transgender policy on January 19, opting to implement a sport-by-sport approach where the criteria for transgender participation would be decided by the sport’s national governing body (NGB).
USA Swimming, the NGB for swimming in the United States, then released its new Athlete Inclusion, Competitive Equity and Eligibility Policy on Tuesday, which is what the group is asking for UPenn and the Ivy League to follow and not challenge.
“Tuesday, USA Swimming released new ‘Athlete Inclusion Procedures’ shortly after the NCAA acknowledged that each sport should determine how fairness and inclusion were to be accomplished,” the letter reads. “In particular, we appreciate USAS Guideline’s guiding purpose, to ensure that transgender women competing in the Female competition category “do not have an unfair advantage over their cisgender Female competitors in Elite Events.’
“We fully support Lia Thomas in her decision to affirm her gender identity and to transition from a man to a woman. Lia has every right to live her life authentically.
“However, we also recognize that when it comes to sports competition, the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone’s gender identity.”
The letter continues to lament that Thomas holds an unfair advantage over her competitors, and that it’s resulting in some of the team’s athletes missing out on opportunities.
“The Penn Women’s Swimming Team has over 40 women, but only 18 of us are chosen to compete in the end-of-year culmination of our work: the Ivy Championships,” the letter continues.
“Most important to us is that Lia’s inclusion with unfair biological advantages means that we have lost competitive opportunities. Some of us have lost records. But even those that swim different events than Lia or were not in contention to make the Ivy Championships, we stand by our teammates who have lost out.
“It has often felt like Penn, our school, our league, and the NCAA did not support us.”
The letter says the athletes have been told they would face repercussions for speaking out publicly against Thomas’ inclusion in women’s competition, including removal from the team “or that we would never get a job offer.”
Hogshead-Makar did not respond to a question about who told them that they would never get a job offer.
“We hope that sport will adapt; that swimming will find a place for Lia to compete. Lia is always welcome to train with us; the men’s and women’s swimming teams have always trained together with the same head coach.
“However, sport is competitive by definition, and Lia’s wins, records, and honors should not come at our expense, the women who have worked their entire lives to earn a spot on the Penn Women’s Swimming Team.
“We just celebrated National Girls and Women in Sports Day. In honor of the Title IX pioneers who have worked so hard for women to have opportunities in sports and for educational opportunities for all women, we ask the University of Pennsylvania recognize the importance of providing fair competition and safe spaces for its biological female athletes.
“Further, we ask that Penn and the Ivy League refrain from suing the NCAA, or try to interfere with or weaken these new Athlete Inclusion Policies, that they be allowed to stand, so that we are able to finish our swimming season with distinction and pride.”
The open letter comes shortly after a group consisting of “several members” of the UPenn women’s team released a statement in support of Thomas on Tuesday.
The policy published earlier this week by USA Swimming requires an athlete to provide the following:
- Evidence that the prior physical development of the athlete as a male, as mitigated by any medical intervention, does not give the athlete a competitive advantage over the athlete’s cisgender female competitors.
- Evidence that the concentration of testosterone in the athlete’s serum has been less than 5 nmol/L (as measured by liquid chromatography coupled with mass spectrometry) continuously for a period of at least thirty-six (36) months before the date of application.
The previous International Olympic Committee (IOC) policy was 10 nmol/L, double the standard USA Swimming is implementing.
The USA Swimming policy does specifically note that it’s only applicable to athlete members of USA Swimming. CEO Tim Hinchey recently said that Thomas was not a USA Swimming member.
Penn is scheduled to compete in the Ivy League Championships February 16-19, and the NCAA Championships March 16-19. Thomas did not race at the team’s final regular season meet on Friday against West Chester.