Swimming’s international governing body FINA banned transgender participation in the women’s category in a controversial ruling on Monday, with athletics and football slated to follow. Shashank Nair delves into the complex issue of how FINA thinks about introducing an ‘Open’ category for trans women
The International Swimming Federation (FINA) voted against allowing transgender athletes to compete in female competitions – with the exception that the transgender athlete must have completed their transition before the age of 12.
The policy was approved by 274 members, of which 196 voted. The ruling only applies to elite competitions hosted by FINA. Athletics and FIFA were reported by the BBC and British media as two other major sporting bodies were said to be following the sign of swimming.
FINA President Husain Al-Musallam announced that a working group was set up to create an ‘open category’ in some FINA competitions. About the ‘open category’, Musallam said: “Creating an open category means that everyone has the opportunity to compete at an elite level.” He added: “This has not been done before, so FINA will have to take the lead.”
Track and Field’s IAAF boss Seb Coe later told the BBC: “We see an international federation asserting its primacy in setting rules, regulations and policies that are in the best interest of its sport.
This is as it should be. We have always believed that biology is more important than gender and we will continue to review our regulations accordingly. We will follow the science.”
The move was also widely criticized by gender activists, on the grounds of exclusion.
Why were these changes made?
Transgender athletes in sports, especially transgender women who participate in women’s competitions, are at the heart of this change. A transgender woman who has gone through male puberty and later transitioned into a female has been shown in case studies to maintain testosterone levels that lead to greater structural advantages in sports over cisgender (a person whose sense of identity and gender aligns with their birth gender) women.
Ross Tucker, a sports scientist, explained in his podcast Real Science of Sport that the effects of testosterone cause the body to develop differently for men and women after puberty. He said that according to at least 13 case studies, men who later transitioned to female did not completely remove the effects of testosterone because they transitioned to female.
“In a number of physiological systems relevant to performance — muscle mass, muscle strength, body performance, body fat, heart and lung size — testosterone creates things that are never completely undone,” said PHD Tucker on the Real Science of Sport podcast. He added: “The difference between men and women for strength, power and muscle mass can be 30-40%. Testosterone suppression for a year can remove 5-10%. The result is a fairly large retained benefit – and if you take biological advantage you have retained performance advantage.”
What is the position of the IOC and other major sports organizations?
It is the importance given to testosterone and the timing of when it affects a human body that has divided the world’s organs in such a way that the International Olympic Committee and the International Swimming Federation have almost opposing policies towards transgender athletes.
For example, World Athletics has said that if transgender women reduce their testosterone for 12 months, they are allowed to participate in competitions. USA Swimming requires trans athletes to undergo three years of hormone replacement therapy before being allowed to compete.
The IOC’s trans-trans inclusion framework essentially gave the right to the leading sports organizations to decide how to include their transgender athletes. It also said sports organizations should not automatically assume that trans women athletes are inherently more advantaged than cisgender women athletes, nor should transgender women lower their testosterone levels to compete.
FINA in their Extraordinary Congress called on their medical, legal and sports advisers to speak. Each counselor had a number of delegates who discussed why FINA came to the decision. And then the member organizations voted in favor of this historic measure.
Why is Lia Thomas so important to this statement?
You could say that Lia Thomas was the reason that the swimming club took this measure. Thomas previously competed in the male swim category for Penn State University and was part of their team for three years. In 2019, she began undergoing hormone replacement therapy under NCAA and Ivy League rules.
In 2022, after two years and six months of therapy, she competed in the NCAA 500m Swimming Championship and took first place by beating Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Emma Weyant.
In March, Lia Thomas told Sports Illustrated: “The very simple answer is that I am not a man. I’m a woman, so I’m on the women’s team. Transgender people deserve the same respect that any other athlete gets.”
Reka Gyorgy, who competed for Hungary in the 2016 Rio Olympics, complained of missing her last race to the NCAA. According to the Guardian, she said Thomas essentially took her place and it hurt her, her team and other women in the pool. Thomas said she was looking to compete in the 2024 Olympics in Paris and given her times, she probably could have won medals for the US. It is important to note that prior to making the transition to a woman, Liz Thomas was already an NCAA swimmer.
Why are the words ‘competitive fairness’ so important in this decision by FINA?
The benefits of testosterone on Liz Thomas’ body before she became a woman had given her the ideal setup to be a top athlete. This was despite the NCAA’s rules regarding hormone replacement therapy and a three-year hiatus.
This is why competitive justice is a term used in the Extraordinary Congress. It was the main reason why transgender women were barred from elite competitions unless their transition occurred before the age of 12. However, the age of 12 is not scientifically determinative and an arbitrary number because puberty does not happen to the human body at a certain age. Menopause also requires three phases – social, medical with hormones and surgical.
‘Which of these three do they mean? Should the patient have had surgery by then, which is almost impossible,” said Dr. Alireza Hamidian Jahromi, co-director of the Gender Affirmation Surgery Center at Temple University Hospitals in Philadelphia.
The issue of certification
“All athletes must certify their chromosomal gender with their affiliated federation to qualify for FINA competitions,” the latest ruling reads. Add to that the conundrum of how this certification will take place (“Member federations must confirm their athletes’ certifications of chromosomal sex when registering their athletes to participate in FINA competitions”) and suddenly everyone has to prove their gender through their own federations and the chromosomal test along the lines of a doping test.
What is the category ‘other’ and what does it mean?
The second part of the FINA ruling was to come up with an “open category” in the next six months. This would be the category that transgender athletes would be a part of. While there are many scientific benefits to this idea, including trans athletes who can compete among themselves, there are issues.
There is the problem of the numbers. There are simply not enough transgender elite athletes around. A Liz Thomas could essentially go her whole life without ever participating in the Olympics because there are not enough elite transgender female swimmers in the world. The statement fails on this point.
It also fails on the privacy front, where an athlete can decide their gender status without pressure. Talking about the flip side in a BBC article on transgender athletes in sport, Tucker said: “There’s still a lot of stigma surrounding being trans and I’m not sure if trying to force or create a platform through sport, would help overcome that. . If anything, certain barriers can be created.”
The trans question in other sports
While FINA passed their constitution to ban transgender athletes from participating in women’s competitions, other sports saw athletes in both team and individual sports compete at the highest levels and grapple with the vexing problem.
Canadian athlete Quinn won the gold medal in football when their team defeated Sweden in the final of the 2021 Tokyo Olympics. Quinn thus became the first transgender athlete to win a medal in the Olympics.
In the +87kg weightlifting category for women, Laurel Habbard made history by becoming one of the first openly transgender athletes to compete in the Olympics. While she didn’t register a lift, at age 43 this would likely have been the last time she competed in high-level weightlifting — something she insinuated when she said that age was catching up with her. Habbard switched to a 35-year-old woman.
In the new Olympic discipline of skateboarding, Allana Smith stood up and stood out. From Forth Worth, Texas, Smith came last at their event, the Women’s Street, but entry was the real prize for the 20-year-old. “I wanted to walk out of here knowing I was UNAPOLOGETically myself and smiling sincerely,” Smith wrote on Instagram
In October 2021, World Rugby became the first international sports governing body to ban transgender women participating in global competitions such as the Olympics and the women’s Rugby World Cup, although each country could determine whether transgender women could continue to participate in domestic competitions. rugby matches. The decision was deliberated for nine months, after which World Rugby said that in a multi-injury collision sport, “safety and fairness cannot currently be guaranteed for women competing against trans women in contact rugby.”