Jul 16, 2022 - Sports

Lia Thomas nominated for NCAA Woman of the Year award by her university

Photo: Mike Comer/NCAA Photos via Getty Images

Lia Thomas, a transgender woman who swims for the University of Pennsylvania, was one of more than 240 Division I athletes nominated by their schools for the 2022 Woman of the Year award, the NCAA announced on Friday.

Why it matters: Thomas' rise and success have drawn criticism from some corners and fueled debate over transgender participation in elite sports.

  • Republican legislators in numerous states including Ohio, Iowa, Georgia and Utah have passed laws limiting transgender athletes from competing in sports, forcing them to either compete on teams that match their assigned sex at birth or banning trans girls from competing on women's teams.
  • UPenn athletics also nominated tennis player Iuliia Bryzgalova, per the NCAA.

Flashback: Thomas was the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I title after finishing first in the women's 500-yard freestyle championship in March.

  • Thomas originally swam for the school's men's team before transitioning between her sophomore and junior year in 2019.
  • She began hormone replacement therapy and took a year off swimming, in line with NCAA protocols, before joining the women's team, she said in an interview in May.
  • The NCAA, which called for each sport's national governing body to determine its own eligibility requirements for participation for transgender athletes, cleared Thomas to compete at nationals in February.

The big picture: The International Olympic Committee does not have a policy for transgender athletes, instead leaving it up to the individual sports' governing bodies.

  • Transgender athletes are currently restricted from participating in elite women's swimming competitions after swimming's international governing body FINA voted on a new policy in June.
  • Under FINA's new policy, transgender athletes are required to have completed their transition by the age of 12 in order to be eligible for elite competitions, BBC Sports reported.
  • Thomas, who has expressed interest in swimming at the Olympics, would be unable to compete under FINA's new policy.

But, but, but: Some states are also trying to restrict youth access to gender-affirming care, policies which would make complying with FINA's "transition before 12" policy impossible.

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