While transgender athletes claim they only want to compete in their sports, recent actions (or lack of actions) suggest otherwise. World Aquatics (formerly known as FINA) reached across the controversy to offer trans athletes their own forum for swim competitions, but perhaps predictably, no one signed up for the event.
Apparently, trans women athletes feel more comfortable competing against biological females than each other.
In 2022, World Aquatics, the global governing body for swimming, ruled against including transgender women in women’s sporting events. At the time, FINA president Husain Al-Musallam expressed the organization’s commitment to both safeguarding athletes’ rights and ensuring competitive fairness, particularly in women’s swimming competitions.
Under the policy, transgender women are required to demonstrate that they have not undergone male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 or before the age of 12, whichever is later. This criterion effectively disqualifies them from competing in the women’s category. The Tanner Stages serve as a reference to describe the physical changes individuals go through during puberty.
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The restrictions are necessary to ensure some semblance of fairness in competition. Throughout puberty, it’s well-established that boys typically experience growth in several physical aspects, such as longer and denser bones, increased muscle tissue, greater strength, heightened speed, additional height, and enhanced lung capacity when compared to girls. These disparities contribute to a performance advantage that can range from 8 to 50 percent in favor of men. Research indicates that even after a year of hormone therapy, transgender women tend to retain certain athletic advantages in comparison to their cisgender counterparts.
The decision to ban transgenders from competing against biological women was a response to the backlash following trans-competitor Lia Thomas’ victory in 2021 when she broke numerous records for female swimmers following her transition from male to female.
Thomas, formerly known as Will, was a competitive swimmer on Penn’s men’s team from 2017-2020, achieving notable success with second-place finishes in three freestyle events at the Ivy League Championships and securing second-team All-Ivy recognition in the 2018-2019 season. In the 2019-2020 season, Thomas also emerged victorious in the men’s 500 freestyle against Villanova. After transitioning to the women’s team, Thomas found it easier to dominate the competition.
The battle between “fairness” and “inclusivity” spans nearly all female sports, but World Aquatics made a decisive step in leveling the playing field by giving transgenders their own competition. In July, the organization announced that it would start an “Open” category that includes all transgender athletes. The planned open-category competitions, encompassing 50 and 100-meter races in all swimming strokes, were initially set to occur in Berlin.
The event was canceled after no one signed up for the competition.
Although there hasn’t been enthusiasm for transgender World Cup swimming events, World Aquatics remains dedicated to trying to include open-category transgender races in upcoming Masters competitions. While the demand for such events may not be high at the elite level presently, the working group is focused on initiating discussions within the aquatics community to evaluate the viability of introducing open-category races in Masters-level competitions.
It’s interesting to note that research indicates that transgender males may have unique advantages when competing in male sports. These advantages are primarily associated with hormone replacement therapy (HRT), particularly testosterone. HRT can lead to increased muscle mass, enhanced bone density, and higher red blood cell counts, resulting in improved strength, stamina, and overall physical performance. Muscle development benefits from testosterone, contributing to increased strength, power, and endurance, which is particularly advantageous in sports that require substantial muscle mass. Additionally, hormone therapy may lead to improved cardiovascular health, including enhanced oxygen-carrying capacity in the blood, providing advantages in endurance sports.
One example of trans males winning in male sports is Chris Mosier, a triathlete who made history as the first transgender athlete to qualify for the Olympic trials in his self-identified gender category. He has also been a member of Team USA for international competitions, being recognized as the “first known transgender man to represent the United States in international competition.” Another example is Patricio Manuel, who became the first openly transgender man to box professionally in the United States in 2018, securing a victory in a bout against Mexican athlete Hugo Aguilar.
In the ongoing debate over transgender inclusion in sports, it’s crucial to remember that fairness and competitiveness are the root of any sporting event. Striking a balance between inclusivity and maintaining a level playing field is a challenging task, and one that World Aquatics tried to face head-on.
But fairness and competitiveness don’t seem to be a concern for transgender swimmers, who refuse to stay in their own pool lane.