Fina: what is swimming body’s new rules on transgender athletes - will it create a new competition category?

Here is all we know about recent news that will affect transgender athletes’ participation in elite female swimming.

Male-to-female transgender athletes participation in female competitive sports has caused a lot of controversy and debate in recent years.

A number of famous faces and sports fans have shared their views of the situation online, with many believing that the transgender athletes carry many advantages over their fellow competitors and it raises a question of fairness.

While a number of sports have used testosterone limits as a basis for allowing trans women to compete, however Fina have gone a step further.

The UCI, cycling’s governing body, recently changed their rules in doubling the period of time before a rider transitioning from male to female can compete in women’s races and now Fina, the swimming governing body, have followed with their own restrictions.

What are Fina’s new rules?

Fina has voted to stop transgender athletes from competing in women’s elite races if they have gone through male puberty.

The new policy was passed with 71 per cent of the vote, with the 34-page document stating that male-to-female trans athletes will be able to compete in the women’s category, but only ”provided they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 [which marks the start of physical development], or before age 12, whichever is later”.

The vote makes swimming the second Olympic governing body, after World Rugby in 2020, to introduce a ban on scientific grounds.

Will a new category be introduced?

Fina have revealed in their new policy that they will look to introduce an ‘open’ category at competitions for transgender athletes.

Fina president Husain Al-Mussallam has said: ”Fina will always welcome every athlete. The creation of an open category will mean that everybody has the opportunity to compete at an elite level. This has not been done before, so Fina will need to lead the way. I want all athletes to feel included in being able to develop ideas during this process.”

Lia Thomas

Fina came under increasing pressure to change their rules following the success of transgender swimmer Lia Thomas.

The American college swimmer has expressed a desire to compete for a place at the Olympics, however the new rules would block her from participating in the female category.

In March, Thomas became the first known transgender swimmer to win the highest US national college title with her win in the women’s 500-yard freestyle.

She originally swam for the Pennsylvanian men’s team for three seasons before starting hormone replacement therapy in 2019.

What has been said?

Australian Olympic champion Cate Campbell has backed Fina’s decision to restrict transgender women from competing in elite female swimming.

Ahead of the vote, Fina heard evidence from scientists, lawyers and elite female athletes including Campbell.

Campbell said: “I am asking everyone to take a breath, to absorb before reacting. Listen to the science and experts. Listen to the people who stand up here and tell you how difficult it has been to reconcile inclusion and fairness.

“That men and women are physiologically different cannot be disputed. We are only now beginning to explore and understand the origins of these physiological differences and the lasting effects of exposure to differing hormones.  “Women, who have fought long and hard to be included and seen as equals in sport, can only do so because of the gender category distinction. To remove that distinction would be to the detriment of female athletes everywhere.”