Friday, 19 April, 2024
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New competition rules for transgender swimmers

Swimming’s world governing body FINA has voted to restrict the participation of transgender athletes in elite women’s competitions and create a working group to establish an “open” category for them in some events as part of its new policy.

FINA officials said the aim was to ensure fair competition in women’s races, reports Reuters, citing scientific evidence that males who transition to being women (transgender women) retain physical advantages despite undergoing hormone therapy and testosterone reduction as part of their treatment.

“By 14 years or older, the difference between boys and girls is substantial. That’s due to the advantages from the physiological adaptations in testosterone and the possession of the Y chromosome,” said Dr Sandra Hunter, an exercise physiologist who was part of FINA’s panel examining the issue.

Some of these physical advantages are structural, like height, limb length, heart size, lung size, she said, and would be retained, even with the suppression or reduction of testosterone that occurs in the transition from male to female.

What is the big change?

The new eligibility policy for FINA competitions states that male-to-female transgender swimmers (transgender women) are eligible to compete in women’s competitions only if “they can establish to FINA’s comfortable satisfaction that they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 (of puberty) or before age 12, whichever is later”.

What is ‘Tanner Stage 2’?

Typically boys begin puberty at 11-12, completing the process by 16-17. Tanner Stage Two is the second of five stages of puberty. While puberty timetables vary according to different factors, boys can have completed stage 2 and entered stage 3 by the age of 12 or 13. In some cases even earlier or later.

Stage 2 is when physical changes begin, including genital development, hair growth around penis and under arms, and an increase in height, along with growing pains.

What is the policy for transgender men?

For female to male transgender swimmers (transgender men), given there is no physical advantage gained, they are eligible to compete in men’s competition.

However, swimmers having testosterone treatment or receiving other anabolic substances as part of hormone treatment must obtain a Therapeutic Use Exemption in line with anti-doping regulations.

Female-to-male transgender athletes (transgender men) who are not using exogenous androgens can compete in the women’s category.

Male-to-female transgender athletes (transgender women) remain eligible for the men’s category, whether or not they are suppressing their endogenous androgens.

Does this policy apply to all swimming competitions?

The policy only applies to eligibility for FINA competitions and events recognised by FINA. Those include world championships and the Olympic Games. The policy also affects who FINA considers eligible for a world record.

While national federations and other bodies are therefore in charge of their own events, FINA said the policy is “intended to operate uniformly worldwide”.

What is the certification process?

All athletes must certify their chromosomal sex with their national swimming federation to be eligible for FINA competitions.

Transgender swimmers must provide FINA with a comprehensive medical history and other evidence to prove they are eligible for the competition category and be willing to undergo a physical examination. An independent expert will review the submission and make a decision on eligibility.

FINA can also monitor through random or targeted testing of an athlete’s testosterone levels, and investigate swimmers who have not filed a declaration as a transgender athlete. Swimmers can appeal decisions to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

What is the new ‘open category’?

FINA voted to set up a working group for the new ‘open category’ to be held alongside men’s and women’s races, adds Reuters.

They will scrutinise the feasibility of a category where anyone “who meets the eligibility criteria would be able to compete without regard to their sex, legal gender, or gender identity”.

Does this policy cover other sports?

It will be applied for FINA events – swimming, diving, water polo, artistic swimming, high diving and open water swimming.

What LGBTQI+ groups say

The US based campaign group Athlete Ally said the policy is “deeply discriminatory, harmful, unscientific” and out of line with the stance of the International Olympic Committee.

“The eligibility criteria for the women’s category as it is laid out in the policy polices the bodies of all women, and will not be enforceable without seriously violating the privacy and human rights of any athlete looking to compete in the women’s category,” said Anne Lieberman, director of Policy and Programmes at Athlete Ally.


Reuters article – Explainer: How will swimming's new transgender rules work? (Open access)


See more from MedicalBrief archives:


Trans women in female sports: Fairness and inclusion can’t always be balanced


Texas law bans transgender girls from female school sports


Accommodating trans athletes without rejecting the reality of human biology




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