FINA prohibits transgender participation in the women’s category

In a controversial ruling on Monday, the international swimming federation FINA banned the participation of transgender people in the women’s category, with athletics and football to follow. Shashank Nair tackles the complex issue of how FINA is considering introducing an “open” category to include trans women

The International Swimming Federation (FINA) has voted against allowing transgender athletes to compete in women’s competitions, with the exception that transgender athletes must have completed their transition before the age of 12.

The policy was voted on by 274 members, with 196 casting their votes in favour. The verdict only applies to elite FINA competitions. Athletics and FIFA were covered by the BBC and UK media, as two other major sporting bodies wanted to follow the swimming cue.

FINA President Husain Al-Musallam announced that a working group would be set up to create an “open category” at some FINA competitions. On the ‘open category’, Musallam said: ‘Creating an open category means everyone has the opportunity to compete at an elite level.’ Then he added: ‘This has never been done before so FINA has to lead the way point.”

IAAF chief of athletics Seb Coe later told the BBC: “We see an international governing body asserting its primacy in setting rules, regulations and policies that are in the best interest of its sport.

Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas of Pennsylvania swims in the first leg of the 800 yard freestyle relay at the Ivy League Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships at Harvard, Wednesday, February 16, 2022, in Cambridge, Mass. (AP file)

That’s how it should be. We have always believed that biology takes precedence over gender and we will continue to review our regulations accordingly. We will follow the science.”

The move was also criticized by gender activists for exclusion.

Why were these changes made?

Transgender athletes in sports, particularly transgender women competing in women’s competitions, are at the heart of this shift. In case studies, a transgender woman who has gone through male puberty and later transitioned into a woman has been shown to retain testosterone levels that result in greater structural advantages in sport over cisgender (an individual whose sense of identity and gender matches their sex of birth ) Women.

Ross Tucker, an exercise scientist, explained on his podcast, The Real Science of Sport, that the effects of testosterone cause the body to develop differently in men and women after puberty. He said that according to at least 13 case studies in men who later became women, the effects of testosterone were not completely eliminated because they became a woman.

“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 fully reversed,” PHD Tucker said on the Real Science of Sport podcast “. . Then he added: “The difference between men and women in terms of power, strength and muscle mass can be 30-40%. Testosterone suppression for a year can take away 5-10%. The result is quite a large retained advantage – and if you’ve retained a biological advantage, then you’ve retained a performance advantage.”

What is the position of the IOC and other major sports federations?

It is the importance attached to testosterone and the timing of its impact on a human body that has divided world bodies so much that the International Olympic Committee and the International Swimming Federation have almost conflicting policies on transgender athletes.

For example, World Athletics has said that once transgender women reduce testosterone for 12 months, they should be allowed to compete. 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 leading sporting bodies the right to choose how they would include their transgender athletes. It also said sports organizations should not automatically assume that trans women are inherently better off than cisgender athletes, or that transgender women do not need to reduce their testosterone levels in order to compete.

FINA, at its Extraordinary Congress, called on its medical, legal and athletic advisors to speak. Each lawyer had a few delegates who spoke about why FINA came to this decision. And then the affiliates voted for this historic measure.

FINA Transgender Judgment In March, Lia Thomas told Sports Illustrated, “The very simple answer is I’m not a man. I’m a woman, so I belong on the women’s team. Trans people deserve the same respect that every other athlete gets.” (Twitter)

Why is Lia Thomas so important to this verdict?

It could be said that Lia Thomas was the reason that the World Federation of Swimming took this action. Thomas previously competed in the men’s swim 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 500-yard NCAA swimming championship and placed first, beating Tokyo Olympics silver medalist Emma Weyant.

In March, Lia Thomas told Sports Illustrated, “The very simple answer is I’m not a man. I’m a woman, so I belong on the women’s team. Trans people deserve the same respect that every other athlete gets.”

Reka György, who represented Hungary at the Rio 2016 Olympics, complained about missing her last race in the NCAA. According to the Guardian, she said Thomas essentially took her place and that it hurt her, her team and other women in the pool. Thomas said she wanted to compete in the Paris 2024 Olympics and judging by her time she probably could have won medals for the USA. It’s important to note that Liz Thomas was an NCAA swimmer before she became a woman.

Why are the words “competitive justice” so important in this FINA decision?

The benefits of testosterone on Liz Thomas’ body before she became a woman had given her the ideal setting to become a top athlete. This was despite NCAA rules regarding hormone replacement therapy and a three-year gap.

For this reason, competitive fairness is a term used at the Extraordinary Congress. This was the main reason why transgender women were excluded from elite competitions unless their transition occurred before the age of 12. However, the age of 12 is not scientifically determinative and is a random number, as puberty does not occur at a specific age in the human body. The transition also requires three phases – social, medical with hormones and surgical.

“Which of these three do you mean? Should the patient have undergone surgery by that point, 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 have their chromosomal sex certified by their member federation in order to be eligible for FINA competitions,” reads the latest decision. Add to this the mystery of how this certification will take place (“Member Federations must confirm their athletes’ chromosomal sex certifications when they register their athletes to compete in FINA competitions”) and suddenly everyone has to have their gender verified by their own Federations and the Chromosome test similar to a doping test.

What is the “Other” category and what does it include?

The second part of the FINA judgment should provide for an “open category” in the next six months. This would be the category to which transgender athletes would belong. While there are many scientific benefits to this idea, including allowing trans athletes to compete amongst themselves, there are problems.

There is the problem of numbers. There just aren’t enough elite transgender athletes. A Liz Thomas could basically live her entire life without ever competing in the Olympics because there aren’t enough elite transgender swimmers in the world. At this point the verdict fails.

It also fails on the issue of privacy, where an athlete can decide on their gender status without pressure. Speaking about the downside in a BBC article on transgender athletes in sport, Tucker said: “There’s still a lot of stigma attached to being transgender and I’m not sure if trying to build a platform through sport to force or create would help to overcome that. If anything, certain barriers could arise.”

The trans issue in other sports

While FINA passed its constitution to bar transgender athletes from competing in women’s competitions, other sports saw athletes in both team and individual sports compete at the highest level and grapple with the thorny issue.


Canadian athlete Quinn won the gold medal in soccer when his team defeated Sweden in the final of the Tokyo 2021 Olympics. Quinn was the first transgender athlete to win a medal at the Olympics.


In the women’s 87+ kg weightlifting category, Laurel Habbard made history by becoming one of the first openly transgender athletes to compete in the Olympics. Though she failed to register a lift, at age 43, that would likely have been the last time she competed in high-level weightlifting – something she hinted at when she said age was catching up with her. Habbard transitioned to a woman at the age of 35.


In the new Olympic discipline of skateboarding, Allana Smith stood up and stood out. Smith, from Forth Worth, Texas, finished last at her event, Women’s Street, but attendance was the real prize for the 20-year-old. “I wanted to walk out of this knowing that I am UNEXCUSED and genuinely smiling,” Smith wrote on Instagram


In October 2021, World Rugby became the first international sports governing body to ban transgender women from participating in global competitions such as the Olympic Games and the Women’s Rugby World Cup, although each country could decide whether it would continue to allow transgender women to compete in national ones participate in rugby competitions. The decision was deliberated for nine months, at the end of which World Rugby said that in a multi-injury collision sport, “the safety and fairness of women competing in contact rugby against trans women cannot be assured at this time”.

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