World Swimming Federation Bars Most Transgender Women From Elite Events—But Weighs ‘Open Competition’ Category

Published 1 year ago
Female swimmer diving in mid-air


The international governing body for swimming voted Sunday to largely restrict transgender athletes from competing in the elite level of women’s swimming, but will consider setting up new “open competition” events, a decision that follows months of controversy and was cast by the organization as a way of balancing inclusion with competitive fairness.


The governing body FINA’s new policy bars swimmers who transitioned after age 12, or those who cannot establish they “have not experienced any part of male puberty,” from competing in women’s events.

FINA said in a statement 71.5% percent of the organization’s voting members voted in favor of the new policy, which will take effect on Monday.


FINA President Husain Al-Musallam said in a statement the federation has to “protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events.”

The federation’s new policy also included proposals for an “open competition” category for athletes who do not meet the criteria for men’s or women’s competitions—a FINA working group plans to discuss how to implement this idea over the next six months.


James Pearce, a spokesperson for Al-Musallam, told the Associated Press FINA made the decision because some scientists concluded a person transitions after the start of puberty, they have an advantage. “[The new policy is]


Former University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, who was been a central figure in the debate, defended her right to compete in women’s sports last month, after she became the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I individual national title in March. Thomas—who has said she aspires to swim in the U.S. Olympic trials—told Good Morning America that “trans people don’t transition for athletics, we transition to be happy.”



FINA’s new policy comes days after the World Professional Association for Transgender Health updated its guidelines to lower the minimum recommended age for starting gender hormone treatment from 16 to 14, and set the minimum age for some surgical procedures at 15 or 17—meaning most trans children won’t begin to transition before age 12. While research on the performance of transgender athletes is limited, there has been a surge in legislation in the United States barring or preventing transgender athletes from competing in sports events in recent years. Some 18 states have passed laws restricting transgender women and girls from participating in school sports teams that align with their gender identity, according to the New York Times. The NCAA, the organization that regulates U.S. college athletics, changed its rules in January to allow individual sports to determine their own eligibility rules for transgender athletes. The NCAA’s previous policy required transgender athletes to have undergone one year of testosterone suppression treatment to compete on a women’s sporting team.


Trans kids’ treatment can start younger, new guidelines say (The Associated Press)

Why Doctors Are Divided Over Gender-Affirming Care for Children (The New York Times)

By Anna Kaplan, Forbes Staff