International Swimming Federation Will Ban Some Biologically Male Athletes from Women’s Competitions

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The international swimming federation FINA announced a new policy on Sunday to ban biologically male athletes who have gone through male puberty from competing in women’s competitions. 

To qualify for women’s competitions, the swimmers must either have never gone through male puberty or had male puberty suppressed at the stage when physical changes begin to appear or before the age of 12, whichever occurred later, according to the policy.

The athletes also have to prove that they have continuously suppressed their testosterone levels since that time.

“We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events, especially the women’s category at FINA competitions,” FINA president Husain al-Musallam said in statement.

The policy also includes proposals for an additional open competition category. FINA is set to form a new working group that will spend six months studying the most effective ways to set up the new category.

“FINA will always welcome every athlete,” Husain al-Musallam said. “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.”

FINA member federations voted on Sunday to enact the policy, which was crafted by a working group of athletes, scientists, and medical and legal experts that began meeting in November.

More than 70 percent of members endorsed the policy, which will take effect Monday.

The decision comes after Lia Thomas, the University of Pennsylvania swimmer who became the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship, ruffled feathers in the swim world last season. Thomas set pool, school, and Ivy League records. The swimmer competed for three years on the men’s team and was ranked 462 as a male swimmer, but shot up to No. 1 after being allowed to join the women’s team last season.

Thomas won the 500 freestyle at the NCAA swimming and diving championships in March, where the swimmer placed fifth in the 200 freestyle and eighth in the 100 freestyle.

Critics pointed out that Thomas had an unfair biological advantage from years of competing as a man.

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