FINA, the international governing body for swimmers, has effectively banned transgender women from competing in women’s events unless they have undergone transition before the age of 12. They are also thinking of starting an “open category” where athletes can participate without regard to their legal gender identity. 

In the general congress held in Budapest, over 70% of members voted in favour of blocking trans women’s participation. As per the new framework, only those who have transitioned before attaining male puberty will be allowed to compete. 

However, as per World Professional Association for Transgender Health, the hormone treatment for gender transition shouldn’t start before 14. 

“This is not saying that people are encouraged to transition by the age of 12. It’s what the scientists are saying, that if you transition after the start of puberty, you have an advantage, which is unfair,” James Pearce, the spokesperson for FINA president Husain Al-Musallam, said after the decision.

Banning trans athletes from elite sports is promoted as a step to grant everyone a level playing field for all. Moreover, these governing bodies see trans women as a threat to biological women since they possess an unfair competitive advantage because of attaining certain male characteristics before transition. 

The new policy will also debar Lia Thomas, the first transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming competition in the USA, from participating in the Olympics. Thomas’ recorded timing for the 500-yard freestyle event is significantly lower than the ten fastest swimming in the women’s event. 

“The eligibility criteria for the women’s category as it is laid out in the policy (will) police 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,” Anne Lieberman of Athlete Ally said. 

Last year, the International Olympic Committee developed a new guideline over the participation of trans athletes, moving away from the specific criteria laid out in 2014 which prevented women with high testosterone than the limiting amount from participating. The IOC left the inclusion of trans athletes to their respective sporting bodies, but warned them to “not systematically exclude athletes from competition based upon their gender identity, physical appearance and/or sex variations.”

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