Swimming’s governing body has effectively banned trans women

A new policy says only swimmers who transitioned before the age of 12 will be allowed to compete in women’s events.

ATLANTA, GEORGIA - MARCH 17: Lia Thomas swims to victory in the 500 Yard Freestyle during the 2022 N...
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Over the past few years, transmisogyny’s increased traction in sports has been well-documented as individual states try to ban trans women’s participation. Now, sports organizations at the highest level are stepping in — and not for the better. Starting Monday, trans women are effectively banned from high-level international swim competitions in a move that has been condemned as a human rights violation.

On Sunday, the Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA), which is the world’s governing body for swimming, voted to adopt a new policy. Under it, only swimmers who transitioned before the age of 12 are allowed to complete in women’s events. FINA has defended its policy as a way to ensure fairness, with FINA President Husain Al-Musallam saying, “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.”

James Pearce, who is the spokesperson for Al-Musallam, echoed the same sentiment, stating, “They’re not saying everyone should transition by age 11, that’s ridiculous. You can’t transition by that age in most countries and hopefully you wouldn’t be encouraged to. Basically, what they’re saying is that it is not feasible for people who have transitioned to compete without having an advantage.”

These concerns about fairness are just a dogwhistle. To be 100% clear: There aren’t even any trans women competing at the world swimming championships right now. FINA is just another sports organization implementing discriminatory rules using the excuse of defending cis women.

While FINA described the policy as gender inclusive, it’s anything but. On Twitter, the Human Rights Watch wrote, “This policy change only furthers the discrimination transgender athletes face already. We should be creating policies inclusive of trans athletes — not ones that seek to exclude.”

FINA’s new policy comes only three months after Lia Thomas became the first trans woman to win an NCAA Division I swimming championship. Per FINA, over 70% of its members voted to adopt the policy after hearing speeches from representatives from a working group consisting of athletes, scientists, and a human rights group.

Clearly, all of those working groups were slacking. As if stating people who transitioned after 12 can’t compete isn’t enough, the policy also requires athletes to “certify their chromosomal sex with their Member Federation in order to be eligible for FINA competitions.” FINA isn’t the first organization to require women “prove” their womanhood with testosterone or chromosomal tests, which have been condemned by the Human Rights Watch and the United Nations. In 2019, the U.N. wrote that requiring athletes to reduce hormone levels to compete “plays into a discriminatory and stereotyped equivalence between testosterone, masculinity, strength and achievement that has been challenged by medical doctors, human rights, and intersex advocates, with the scientific basis questioned.”