Swimming aims to become “the first sport” to put into operation an “open category” in which transgender athletes can compete. This was announced last Sunday in Budapest by Husain Al Musallam, president of the International Federation (FINA).
“I do not want an athlete to be told that he cannot compete at the highest level”, Al Musallam said during an extraordinary FINA Congress, held on the sidelines of the World Swimming Championships, which kicked off on Saturday. “I am going to set up a working group to create an open category in our competitions. We will be the first federation to do so”, he assured.
In the midst of controversy by Lia Thomas
This decision by FINA comes as swimming has been shaken by a controversy regarding the American transgender swimmer Lia Thomas. The 22-year-old student, born male, this year became the first transgender swimmer to win a university degree in her country.
Her mid-March victory in the 500-yard final had sparked a great deal of debate. Her detractors had estimated that, having competed in the men’s category in the past, Lia Thomas benefited from an unfair physiological advantage over the rest of her.
During its Congress, FINA approved a new “inclusivity” policy, which will effectively exclude numerous transgender swimmers from elite women’s swimming. FINA Director General Brent Nowicki stated that the organization was determined to maintain separate competitions for men and women.
FINA “recognizes that certain people may not be able to compete in the category that best corresponds to their legal gender or gender identity”, he added. The men’s competition, by contrast, would be open to all, but athletes born male will not be able to compete in the FINA women’s categories or set world records.
Last year, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued guidelines on the issue. The highest body asked the federations to develop their own rules “specific to their sport”.