“I don’t want an athlete to be told they can’t compete at the highest level”Al-Musallam said at an extraordinary congress of the body held during the World Swimming Championships. “I will set up a working group to create an open category during our competitions. We will be the first federation to do so.”
The Fina decision comes as swimming has been rocked by a controversy over American transgender swimmer Lia Thomas. The 22-year-old student, born male, had become the first transgender swimmer to win a university title in the spring.
Her victory in mid-March in the 500-yard final had opened a wide debate, her detractors believing that having competed as a man in the past, Lia Thomas enjoyed an unfair physiological advantage.
Fresh off her title as world champion in the 200m medley, her compatriot Alex Walsh cautiously hailed the Fina’s initiative. “I am happy that Fina and the various federations are not going into investigations but are reassessing the rules. I don’t really know what the right solution is to keep things fair, but obviously I want everyone can compete and as long as they find a way to do that I’m happy I believe the goal of Fina and what they’re going to do is what’s best for everyone “she said in Budapest.
During its congress, Fina adopted a new policy of“inclusivity”, which will effectively exclude many transgender swimmers from elite women’s swimming. The federation, explained its chief executive, Brent Nowicki, is determined to maintain separate competitions for men and women.
The Fina “recognizes that some people may not be able to compete in the category that best matches their legal gender alignment or gender identity”he added. “Each of us must always, within the limits of the principles of equity, ensure the inclusion of all individuals regardless of their gender orientation”Newicki continued.
Under these rules, the men’s competition would be open to all. On the other hand, athletes who were born male and became female will only be able to compete in women’s Fina categories, or set women’s world records, if they became female before puberty – “if they can establish that they have not experienced any manifestation of male puberty”in Newicki’s terms.
An unfair decision for Athlete Ally, an advocacy group for LGBTQ athletes, who reacted on Twitter: “Fina’s new eligibility criteria for transgender athletes and athletes with intersex variations are discriminatory, harmful, unscientific and inconsistent with IOC 2021 principles. If we are serious about protecting women’s sport, we must include all the women.”
Last year, the International Olympic Committee issued guidelines on the issue, while asking federations to develop their own rules “specific to their sport”.
Fina had appointed three committees – one made up of medical experts, another of lawyers and the last of athletes – to examine the question. The medical committee found that men who became women retained advantages. “Even with suppressing hormones, the sex benefits will be retained”said one of the members, Dr. Michael Joyner.
Some of the advantages that men gain at puberty are “structural and are not lost with hormone suppression”said another member, Dr. Sandra Hunter, of Marquette University in Milwaukee. “This includes things like bigger lungs and hearts, longer bones, bigger feet and hands.”
As for the swimmers, the Australian Cate Campbell, quadruple Olympic champion, took the floor to defend this position. “My role is to stand here today and say to transgender people that we want them to be part of the greater swimming community… but also to stand here and say… ‘Listen to science'”she said.