The international swimming federation announced a new rule that says transgender women who have gone through male puberty may not compete in elite women’s swimming competitions.
FINA’s rule was finalized Sunday. It is in response to the increasing number of men competing as women in swimming competitions, a trend that has led legislatures around the country and even local school districts such as the Mat-Su Borough School District in Alaska to establish rules, guidelines, and laws protecting female athletes from physically advantaged males who have gone through chemical or surgical transformations to present themselves and compete as females.
FINA began reworking its rules in response to the International Olympic Committee, which issued a new “Framework on Fairness, Inclusion and Non-Discrimination on the Basis of Gender Identity and Sex Variations” in November, encouraging all international federations to develop eligibility criteria for the women’s competition category “that reflect the specificities of their particular sports but that include to the maximum extent possible athletes who, without regard to their sex or sex-linked traits, identify as women.”
The vote by FINA effectively bans transgenders from competing in women’s categories unless they began medical treatments to suppress production of testosterone before puberty, or by age 12, whichever happens later. The rules are at this link.
The FINA delegates heard from two Olympic swimming champions, Summer Sanders and Kate Campbell, who advocated for fairness for women. Their testimony can be seen at this link.
“Historically, Aquatics sport has been separated into men’s and women’s competition categories. The separation reflects the sport’s commitment to: (1) ensuring equal opportunity for both male and female athletes to participate and succeed in the sport, including through the equal representation in its programs and competitions of athletes of both biological sexes; (2) ensuring competitive fairness and physical safety within its competition categories; and (3) developing the sport and promoting its popular appeal and commercial value. Because of the performance gap that emerges at puberty between biological males as a group and biological females as a group, separate sex competition is necessary for the attainment of these objectives. Without eligibility standards based on biological sex or sex-linked traits, we are very unlikely to see biological females in finals, on podiums, or in championship positions; and in sports and events involving collisions and projectiles, biological female athletes would be at greater risk of injury,” FINA explained in its new rule.
Transitioning before puberty creates serious health and ethical challenges. Side effects from medications include infertility, and a higher risk for heart disease or diabetes later in life. Blood clots are a risk for those who start estrogen. Individuals who attempt to switch gender identities are saddled with a lifetime of medications, often paid for by taxpayers, to maintain the physical characteristics they are seeking.
Some children begin puberty as young as eight years old. For all children, an ethical question is raised about whether a child is qualified to determine a new gender identity for themselves, an identity that has lifetime implications.
“The Science Group [of FINA] reported that biological sex is a key determinant of athletic performance, with males outperforming females in sports (including Aquatics sports) that are primarily determined by neuromuscular, cardiovascular, and respiratory function, and anthropometrics including body and limb size. The extent of the male/female performance gap varies by sport and competition, but the gap universally emerges starting from the onset of puberty. The group reported that there are sex-linked biological differences in Aquatics, especially among elite athletes, that are largely the result of the substantially higher levels of testosterone to which males are exposed from puberty onwards. Prior to puberty, testosterone levels are similar in females and males. During puberty, however, testes-derived testosterone concentrations increase 20-fold in males, while testosterone concentrations remain low in females so that post-pubescent males have circulating testosterone concentrations at least 15 times higher than post-pubescent females (15-20 nmol/L in adult males versus c.1 nmol/L in typical females of any age). High testosterone levels generate not only anatomical divergence in the reproductive system but also measurably different body types/compositions between sexes,” the new rule explains.
University of Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines, who tied with transgender UPenn swimmer Lia Thomas for fifth place in an April NCAA 200-freestyle championship, applauded the decision to restrict Thomas and other transgender swimmers.
At the NCAA championships, Gaines (pictured above with transgender swimmer Thomas) was told by the NCAA that the fifth place trophy would be given to Thomas, and hers would be mailed to her later, even though there was a tie.
Earlier this year, Thomas, who had competed as a male at the collegiate level just two years before, took the top trophy at the NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships in the 500-yard. According to USA Swimming’s rule, no transgender athlete can compete in a women’s category prior to showing that his concentration of testosterone in serum has been less than 5 nmol/L continuously for 36 months prior to the competition. There is no rule that protects females from males who transition after male puberty has conferred physical advantages on them.
In the Alaska Legislature SB 140 by Sen. Shelley Hughes would have protected girls’ athletics; introduced last year, it failed to make progress through the Senate and was ultimately tabled, as liberal senators outmaneuvered Hughes on her attempts to protect female athletics from being overtaken by transgenders in Alaska.
In school districts in Alaska, the policies vary by community. While the Mat-Su School District has put biological sideboards on some sports, the Anchorage School District allows boys to compete in girls’ divisions if they choose. A young boy is now signed up to compete in a track and field competition in one of the Anchorage middle schools, and transgenders have competed against girls in other communities in Alaska.
In 2020, a 29-year-old transgender Alaskan, born male but with the help of drugs living as a woman, was the first transgender athlete to compete in the U.S. Olympic marathon trials in Atlanta.
Megan Youngren qualified for the women’s marathon trials by placing 40th in Sacramento at the California International Marathon, and then competed in the Olympic marathon trial in 2021. Younger had started taking female hormones just two years earlier, and brought with him all the lung capacity, musculature, bone density, and lean mass of a fully mature male who was suppressing testosterone in order to compete with women.