Lia Thomas: World Swimming's Governing Body FINA Bans Transgender Athletes from Competing Against Women

Under the new FINA policy, a working group will spend the next six months investigating an open category for these athletes.

It's effectively the end of the road for the likes of Lia Thomas. The world governing body for swimming FINA announced on Sunday that it will restrict the participation of transgender athletes in elite women's swimming competitions starting Monday. Instead, it has proposed an "open category" for them in some events as part of its new policy, FINA said.

Over the following six months, a working group will define how the "open category" will function. The news comes after an internal vote saw 71.5 percent in favor of the new resolution. Transgender rights have become a major talking point as sports seek to balance inclusivity while ensuring there is no unfair advantage.

Clear Segregation

Lia Thomas
Lia Thomas Twitter

The latest decision was announced during the World Championships in Budapest, Hungary, where 152 national federations gathered to hear a report from a transgender task force comprised of top medical and sporting leaders. According to the new "gender inclusion policy", transgender women can only compete in the organization's women's races if they have completed their transition by the age of 12.

They'll have to show the federation that they've been suppressing their testosterone levels consistently since then.

Members of the organization heard from a transgender task force, which was formed after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) requested individual sports federations to provide transgender athlete advice in November.

Lia Thomas
Lia Thomas representing University of Pennsylvania. Twitter

"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," FINA President Husain Al-Musallam said in a statement.

The experts decided in their policy that biological sex-based qualifying rules are required, writing: "Without eligibility standards based on biological sex or sex-linked traits, we are very unlikely to see biological females in finals, on podiums on in championship positions."

"I do not want any athlete to be told they cannot compete at the highest level," Al-Musallam said.

Lia Thomas
Lia Thomas Twitter

"I will set up a working group to set up an open category at our meets. We will be the first federation to do that."

End of the Road

Under the new FINA policy, a working group will spend the next six months investigating an open category for these athletes. "No one quite knows how this is going to work. And we need to include a lot of different people, including transgender athletes, to work out how it would work," he said. "So there are no details of how that would work. The open category is something that will start being discussed tomorrow," FINA said.

There are presently no transgender women competing at the elite level of swimming, according to FINA. The verdict, however, appears to rule Lia Thomas of the University of Pennsylvania out of elite competition.

Lia Thomas
Web Screen Grab

As sports try to strike a balance between diversity and ensuring that no one has an unfair edge, transgender rights have become a hot topic.

Thomas became the first transgender NCAA champion in Division I history after winning the women's 500-yard freestyle at the University of Pennsylvania earlier this year.

Also, the new policy would raise Thomas' standing in international swimming and potentially land her a place at the Olympics - which she said in a recent interview she would like to compete at in the future.

Swimming pool
Wikimedia Commons

Thomas swam for three seasons for the Pennsylvanian men's team before beginning hormone replacement treatment in the spring of 2019. Thomas and other trans female athletes, according to a slew of doctors, would always have an unfair advantage in various sports because they can't undo puberty when their biological male bodies were inundated with testosterone.

They claim that hormonal therapy for one or even four years will not be adequate to reverse the changes in a male adolescent's physique.

 Iszac Henig (L) and Lia Thomas
Iszac Henig (L) and Lia Thomas Screen grab - Instagram, Penn athletics

There has been word from Thomas yet. Other sports have looked into their policies regarding transgender athletes.

Cycling's governing body changed its eligibility regulations for transgender athletes on Thursday, imposing tighter requirements that will force riders to wait longer to compete.