On Thursday, USA Swimming issued a statement in support of transgender athlete inclusion, but without committing to a specific threshold for participation in elite swimming competition.
In the statement, USA Swimming expressed that for several months they have been working closely with FINA to create the sport-specific eligibility requirement that the IOC now requires. USA Swimming believes that FINA will release this new policy shortly, and USA Swimming will adopt the measures accordingly.
USA Swimming reiterated its policy of allowing non-elite athletes to compete with whichever gender matches their gender identity and expression. While they have not defined elite sport versus non-elite sport, Lia Thomas’ times would likely classify her as as an elite athlete both before and after her transition.
Yesterday, the NCAA Board voted to support a sport-by-sport approach to transgender athlete inclusion, which focuses on safety and fairness for all athletes. As part of this policy, the NCAA has said that testosterone thresholds will be left to national governing bodies, like USA Swimming and FINA, to decide. That decision by the Board of Governors made USA Swimming and FINA, perhaps unwittingly, the latest to hold the hot potato in deciding specific policies with regards to transgender athlete participation in intercollegiate athletics.
In the case where the governing bodies have not established a specific threshold, which is true as of now in swimming, the November 2021 IOC policy becomes the default. The November 2021 IOC policy, however, eliminated testosterone thresholds and instead laid out a framework for transgender inclusion in sport, pushing the onus of creating specific regulations onto sport governing bodies.
This has created a loop between the NCAA, the IOC, and sport governing bodies, where in swimming, none have made a policy, but all have acknowledged the need for such a policy.
The conversation surrounding athlete inclusion has been brought to the forefront recently with University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas receiving international media attention for her record-breaking swims this season. Thomas previously swam for the Quaker’s men’s team for three years. After undergoing almost three years of hormone replacement therapy, Thomas now competes on the women’s team and holds the nation’s top times in the 200 free (1:41.93) and 500 free (4:34.06) and is ranked sixth in the 1650 free (15:59.71).
USA Swimming CEO Tim Hinchey said in an interview last year that Thomas was not a USA Swimming member.
FULL RELEASE, COURTESY OF USA SWIMMING:
“USA Swimming firmly believes in inclusivity and the opportunity for all athletes to experience the sport of swimming in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity and expression. We also strongly believe in competitive equity, and, like many, are doing our best to learn and educate ourselves on the appropriate balance in this space.
“In 2018, we established athlete inclusion procedures, which included both a process by which an athlete could change their competition category consistent with their gender identity and criteria for athletes qualifying for or competing in elite-level competitions (including those competition time qualifications such as Juniors, Nationals and U.S. Open), which adhered to previous International Olympic Committee guidelines. This policy also importantly provides for individual athlete consideration.
“The non-elite athlete inclusion procedures remain unchanged. Following broad transgender policy changes in Nov. 2021, the IOC now requires International Federations to create their own sport-specific eligibility requirements, and so we have been proactively working with FINA for several months to help shape and support their policy development efforts. We believe they will release a new policy shortly, which we will adopt for elite-level competitions.
“USA Swimming is a member-driven organization governed by a 15-member Board of Directors, which oversees more than 360,000 members–including coaches, volunteers and over 325,000 athletes from age-group level to the Olympic Team. These individuals and 2,800 member clubs participate through a network of 59 Local Swimming Committees (LSCs) in four geographic Zones across the U.S. With the NCAA now deferring to USA Swimming for eligibility determinations, we welcome and look forward to American NCAA athletes and coaches joining our membership in order to be eligible to be governed by our policy and its provisions and benefits.”