The blanket ban on swimming for transgender women to compete in international women’s events is the opposite of the International Olympic Committee’s framework suggesting inclusion first and case-by-case review.
The sport’s governing bodies now feel compelled to choose sides in what has become a culture war, although experts warn that Australia’s anti-discrimination policies would prevent the adoption of such blanket bans here.
International water sports governing body FINA announced its ‘inclusion policy’ this week but let others describe it as ‘exclusive’.
The policy reportedly cost the organization US$1 million ($1.45 million) to research and was designed to withstand any legal or human rights challenges.
Delegates to the Extraordinary Congress held on the sidelines of the World Championships in Budapest were only able to see the 24-page document for 14 minutes before being asked to vote on it.
Just over 71% of the 274 delegates voted in favor of the policy, 15% voted against and just over 13% abstained.
Transgender women can only compete internationally if they transition before experiencing “some part of male puberty beyond Tanner stage 2 or before age 12”.
According to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health (WPATH), this requirement is “unethical”.
Dr. Jamison Green is chair of WPATH’s ethics committee and past president of the organization.
“Where [FINA’s] the current policy is outside the scope of practice,” Dr. Green told The Ticket.
“People don’t transition medically until they’re 12, it just doesn’t happen. It would be unethical.”
Lia Thomas’ win at intercollegiate swimming titles shines a light on politics
Although it was established more than 40 years ago with a mission to help design evidence-based public policy, only two sports bodies have sought advice from WPATH – the National Collegiate Athletic Association in America ( NCAA) and the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).
The FINA policy came after a focus on NCAA swimmer Lia Thomas, who in March became the first transgender woman to win an intercollegiate championship title. Her winning time for the 500-yard freestyle was more than nine seconds off the record, and her times at other distances would not currently qualify her for the Olympics or world championships.
“The federations that have published their regulations which are exclusive at this stage are failing, and I think they are going to have to revise those regulations at some point and hopefully that will be soon because it is really hurting generations of people.” , said Dr. Green. .
“It filters through and it is the young children who will suffer from this exclusion.
“They won’t be able to be part of their community, they won’t be able to share their experiences with their peers, they won’t be able to learn the skills to survive, and it’s not just who is the strongest and most fit, it’s about knowing how we get along.
“That’s one of the things that sport teaches us, and it’s very, very important for humanity.”
Cate Campbell’s comments criticized
Cate Campbell, Olympic gold medalist and Chair of the Australian Olympic Committee’s Athletes’ Commission, gave an emotional speech to FINA delegates ahead of the vote which was widely praised in swimming circles.
“Usually, inclusion and equity go hand in hand. Creating an inclusive place means creating an equitable space. The inclusion of transgender, gender-diverse and non-binary athletes in the female category of elite sport is one of the rare occasions when these two principles come into conflict.
“The incongruity that inclusion and equity can’t always work together is one of the reasons it’s so difficult to talk about this topic.
“Usually these are terms of absolutes that work together, but science now tells us that in this case they are incompatible.
“I stand before you, as a four-time Olympian, world champion and world record holder. I stand before you, as the beneficiary of fair elite competition. Yet my work today This is not to explain the nuances of FINA’s transgender policy, nor is it to defend the conclusions reached by medical and legal professionals of far greater intelligence than I am.
“My role is to stand before you, as an athlete who has enjoyed many, many years in this sport and who hopes to continue to enjoy it for a few more years. To stand here and say to the transgender and gender community diverse that we want you to be part of the greater swimming community.
“We see you, appreciate you and accept you.”
Campbell goes on to say that men and women are physiologically different, which cannot be disputed, and supports the recommendation of a separate category for transgender women.
Transgender woman Kirsti Miller, who participated in many sports before and after transitioning, says the picture is much more nuanced.
“Well, they didn’t see us or accept us or like us because none of us were in the room when they voted for us,” Miller said.
“I would have loved to be there and they could have asked me anything. I don’t call anyone transphobic for asking questions.”
Miller points to FINA’s recommendation to create a separate category for transgender swimmers as dangerous.
“In many places around the world, if I were to compete in a separate trans category, it could get me killed,” she said.
“Marking us as ‘the other’ is not inclusion. It’s not inclusion at all.
“I’m not mad, I’m disappointed with Cate that she hasn’t reached out and spoken to people like me and some of the other sports organizations who have been dealing with this for years. made it sad that she ‘tampered with. I would still love to sit with Cate here today and she can ask me anything.
“We just have to find a balance”
Sports bodies such as FINA often refer to scientific data comparing differences between men and women to argue against including transgender people, ignoring the fact that elite cis athletes do not fall within the normal range. and that studies on transgender athletes are still limited.
The lobby to exclude transgender women from competition constantly refers to them as biological men. It suggests a misunderstanding, at best, or a deliberate dismissal, at worst, of the years-long process needed to transition with tests showing a steady decline in physical advantage.
Former US Olympic swimming champion Donna de Verona is one of the most influential female voices in world sport. She was a long-time member of the IOC’s Women in Sport Commission, a founder of the Women’s Sports Foundation and is now an advisor to Champion Women, a group heavily involved in lobbying to keep women’s sport going for women. women born in what has been called a “safe space”.
“We’re not in favor of banning young transgender people in sport at all. We just have to strike a fair balance for everyone, and that’s a problem in our country now because it’s become such political football. .
“The far right has captured it, and the far left is saying everyone should play, there shouldn’t be politics, we just have to find common ground.
“All of us who have been left out understand what it’s like to be left out and have no support system.”
“I know they [FINA] worked very hard for a very long time and brought in scientists, athletes, researchers and human rights experts to come up with their policy. From my perspective, they did their best to strike a balance.”
The FINA working group tasked with designing an open category for transgender swimmers currently has no deadline to work on. FINA has also been reluctant to reveal the science it relied on to make its policy decision and who its experts were.
The lack of transparency has led to an ugly, bigoted fear-based social media campaign targeting trans athletes and their support groups.
De Verona says that while there may never be a transgender swimmer at the Olympics, the addition of trans swimmers at lower levels of the sport has raised other concerns.
“We have a completely different system in the United States where we struggle with how to be fair, how to look at recreational sport versus participatory sport and how to look at elite sport.
“In this country, high school sport is a pathway to scholarships and opportunity and elite sport, which then leads to the Olympics and so on.
“These are two separate things and there is a lot of fear on both sides.
“What worries me are all these states that want to ban transgender children from school sports at all levels without any policies.
“It’s alarmist and it’s not the right direction, which is why we are all struggling at the National Olympic Committee level, at the federation level and in every sport, and we are trying to find the answer.
“We’re in a whole world of confusion and what does it come down to? Yes, it comes down to fairness I think, and protected class, but if we also really believe that everyone should love sport, we have to accommodate every population.”
Australia can be a ‘world leader’
Australian sports organisations, such as Swimming Australia, would not be able to impose a general ban such as FINA’s, due to anti-discrimination laws. In sport, discrimination on the basis of strength, endurance and physique is possible but advantage cannot be assumed, it must be proven.
Elizabeth Broderick, former gender discrimination commissioner and UN special rapporteur on discrimination against girls and women, said Australian sports were in a position to be world leaders on the issue, believing that there is a real commitment to do so.
“I’m fortunate to bring together a group of CEOs from all of the national sports organizations across the country and just recently we’ve been delving into these issues,” Ms. Broderick said.
“It wasn’t just from a point of view, we were able to have an international perspective, we were able to include voices from the lived experience of transgender female athletes, and also the science of leading endocrinologists.
“To get there first with an open heart but also a strong belief in dignity, respect, inclusion and equality… is the context in which we should be having this discussion.
“I’m really optimistic that here in Australia we can be countercyclical. I know a lot of global bodies have imposed blanket bans in recent days and I think Australia can do something different.”
Job , updated