Updated Jun 19, 2022 - Sports

FINA restricts transgender women from elite swimming competitions

University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas swimming
University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas swims in the 500 freestyle finals during the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships on March 17. Photo: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Swimming's international governing body, FINA, voted on Sunday to restrict the participation of transgender athletes in elite women's swimming competitions.

Why it matters: For athletes like Lia Thomas, who earlier this year became the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I title and has expressed hopes of swimming in the Olympics, the new policy could dash dreams of competing in such elite events.

State of play: The new policy requires transgender athletes to have completed their transition by the age of 12 in order to be eligible for elite competitions, BBC Sports reported.

  • The policy, which also aims to establish an "open" category for transgender athletes to compete in, was approved by 71% of FINA's 152 national federation members, per ESPN.
  • In a press release, FINA said the new "policy on gender inclusion" will come into force on June 20.

The big picture: The move to restrict access for transgender swimmers comes as a number of states have passed bills aimed at preventing trans students from participating in youth sports.

What they're saying: "FINA's approach in drafting this policy was comprehensive, science-based and inclusive, and, importantly, FINA's approach emphasized competitive fairness," Brent Nowicki, the governing body's executive director, said in a statement, BBC Sports reported.

Our thought bubble, from Axios' Ina Fried: This is one impact of the Olympics urging inclusion but leaving the actual decisions up to sports governing bodies.

  • It is one of the harshest policies of any sport toward transgender athletes, where most allow trans women to compete if they have taken hormones for a specific amount of time or have testosterone below certain levels.
  • In 2020, World Rugby became the first international sports federation to completely ban transgender women from global competitions.
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