Transgender women will now be barred from female swimming competitions if they have experienced any part of male puberty, according to a major decision from FINA, which serves as swimming’s world governing body.
The rules are a departure from other sporting bodies, but may mark a major sea change as the public grows wary of seeing former males such as Lia Thomas dominate in women’s sporting events. With the new decision, male-to-female transgender athletes can only compete in the women’s category if they have fully transitioned before the age of 12.
The move was supported by the vast majority of the governing body, with 71 percent of the 152 national federations supporting the decision at the world championships in Budapest. The vote came after a report was issued by the FINA scientific panel, which determined that trans women held a significant advantage over biological female swimmers even if these trans women reduced their testosterone with the help of medication.
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“We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events, especially the women’s category at Fina competitions,” said FINA President Husain al-Musallam.
Women’s swimming is not the only sporting body looking to change its transgender policy. The International Cycling Union (UCI) has tightened the rules for the participation of transgender athletes in women’s competitions, doubling the time that must elapse before a man undergoing gender reassignment can compete against cisgender females.
The relatives of transgender cyclist Emily Bridges, who was disqualified from participation at the National Omnium Championships in the United Kingdom back in April after a wave of criticism from her fellow competitors, expressed their displeasure at the new rules.
Bridges’ case sparked a great debate in the U.K.; the 21-year-old cyclist, born a man, was waiting for the premier race in the women’s category, but several elite competitors threatened to boycott the event. Bridges, whose annual testosterone level fell below 5nmol/L, thus meeting the criteria for British cycling, did not show up to the track in Derby.
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The UCI complied with cyclists who have called for a rule change for transgender people to compete due to concerns about fairness. It reduced the required testosterone level from 5nmol/L to 2.5. In addition, the competitor is required to maintain this level for 24 months compared to the original period of 12 months.
The Union based its decision on the scientific finding that muscle strength has adapted to the “female level” for just two years, with 2.5nmol/L being the maximum testosterone level found in 99.99% of women.
“This adjustment of the UCI’s eligibility rules is based on the scientific knowledge published to date in this area and is intended to promote the integration of transgender athletes into a competitive sport while maintaining fairness, equal opportunities, and safety of competitions,” the UCI said in a statement. “The new rules will come into force on July 1. They may change in the future as scientific knowledge evolves,” the governing body added.
Bridges will, therefore, have to wait until at least 2023 for her women’s competition premiere.
“Last night, Em learnt, via the media, that the UCI had announced a change to their transgender eligibility policy, which would come into effect on 1st July 2022,” tweeted her mother, Sandy Sullivan. “We’ve received no communication from the UCI on their plans and, specifically, how it impacts Em’s current application, which has been part of the previous policy process and started in March 2022. As you can imagine, this uncertainty and move of heads has created a significant amount of distress and upset to Em, us as a family, and the wider trans community,” she added.