The world governing body for swimming has banned transgender women who have experienced any part of male puberty from competing in elite women’s competitions, effectively banning most trans women from top swimming events.
The vote by FINA, announced on Sunday June 19, requires transgender swimmers who wish to compete in women’s competitions to have completed their transition by 12 years old and to maintain their testosterone levels below 2.6 nanomoles per liter, according to the Washington Post.
The policy, which took effect on Monday June 20, passed by 71% of the votes from 152 FINA members.
It establishes one of the strictest rules against transgender participation, according to the New York Times; it will bar most transgender women from top swimming events including the Olympics.
FINA said it is working to create a new, “open” category for trans women who do not meet the new requirements to compete.
“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,” FINA president Husain al-Musallam said in statement.
“FINA will always welcome every athlete,” Musallam said. “The creation of an open category will mean that everybody has the opportunity to compete at an elite level. This has not been done before, so FINA will need to lead the way.”
The ruling comes three months after Lia Thomas, an American college student at the University of Pennsylvania, became the first transgender woman to win a NCAA Division I swimming championship, finishing first in the women’s 500-year freestyle.
Thomas’ win sparked an intense debate about the place of transgender swimmers. She has said she hopes to compete in the 2024 Paris Olympics but won’t be able to qualify under the new policy.
“FINA’s new eligibility criteria for transgender athletes and athletes with intersex variations is discriminatory, harmful, unscientific and not in line with the 2021 IOC principles,” Athlete Ally, an LGBTQ advocacy group tweeted. “If we truly want to protect women’s sports, we must include all women.”
There are no transgender women competing at the upcoming world swimming championship at Budapest from June 17, and only one transgender woman, Canadian soccer player Quinn, has ever won a medal at the Olympics, according to the New York Times.
Swimming is the second Olympic governing body to introduce a ban on scientific grounds after World Rugby, which banned transgender women from international competitions in October 2020.
Most other sports have used testosterone limits as a way to allow trans women to continue competing in the women’s category, according to the Guardian.