I recently read how FINA, the international body that governs competitive swimming, placed new restrictions on Transgender swimmers. This restriction immediately impacts all Transgender swimmers competing in international events and sets the standard by which other swimming organizations will be handling Transgender swimmers. Fina has stated that Transgender swimmers may compete in women’s events, “provided they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 [which marks the start of physical development], or before age 12, whichever is later”. I can only imagine the challenge this would present to a young Transgender athlete trying to determine if they have legally gone beyond Tanner Stage 2 or not.
The highest-profile swimmer this has impacted is the American swimmer, Lia Thomas. Lia Thomas, who had been a moderate college swimmer as a male competitor, was able to win a NCAA national college title in the US this year. Others have argued that Thomas is a trailblazer whose success and identity should be celebrated, not restricted. However, this vote means that Thomas will no longer be able to compete in the women’s category at the Paris Olympics as intended.
The British former swimmer Sharron Davies welcomed the news, tweeting: “I can’t tell you how proud I am of my sport, Fina and Fina president for doing the science, asking the athletes/coaches and standing up for fair sport for females. Swimming will always welcome everyone no matter how you identify but fairness is the cornerstone of sport.” Karen Pickering, another former international swimmer for Britain, added: “I was at the Fina congress for the presentation, discussion and vote and I can vouch for the care and empathy displayed for any athletes who won’t now be able to compete in the category their gender ID may align to … but competitive fairness to women’s category must be protected.”
While Lia is understandably disappointed by the ruling, she also remains somewhat philosophical about it. “The biggest misconception, I think, is the reason I transitioned,” Thomas said. “People will say, ‘Oh, she just transitioned so she would have an advantage, so she could win.’ I transitioned to be happy, to be true to myself.” I was personally very happy to hear her say that. Not only did she represent herself well, but she clarified her priorities and the priorities of other transgender athletes like herself. They didn’t transition to have a competitive advantage, but simply to be themselves. If Fina or other competitive sports organizations choose to ban or restrict transgender athletes from competition, hopefully, these organizations understand that the athletes themselves had a more important goal than a gold medal. To live their lives as themselves in their appropriate gender. I know for myself, that I am happy to sacrifice any athletic accolade for the joy of simply feeling ok in my skin.