Lia Thomas's Olympic dreams dashed as swimmers hail 'fair' FINA vote to restrict trans athletes

In March 2022, Lia Thomas became the first transgender swimmer to claim a national title after winning the 500-yard freestyle


                            Lia Thomas's Olympic dreams dashed as swimmers hail 'fair' FINA vote to restrict trans athletes
Lia Thomas (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)
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The international swimming federation for swimming — FINA — has effectively banned transgender women from competing in women’s events. On Sunday, June 19, the governing body voted to restrict the participation of trans athletes in elite women’s competitions and also proposed an “open competition category” as part of its new policy. The new policy requires transgender competitors to have completed their transition by the age of 12 to swim in a women's meet. Further, they would have to prove to the organization that they have suppressed their testosterone levels at all times since then. Hence, transgender athletes who went through male puberty will not be able to compete against biological women.  

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The decision most greatly impacts Penn swimmer Lia Thomas, who became the first transgender NCAA champion in Division I history when she won the women's 500-yard freestyle in March.

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FINA President Husain Al-Musallam said in a statement, "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." The policy further read, "Without eligibility standards based on biological sex or sex-linked traits, we are very unlikely to see biological females in finals, on podiums on in championship positions." It further revealed, "A biological female athlete cannot overcome that advantage through training or nutrition. Nor can they take additional testosterone to obtain the same advantage, because testosterone is a prohibited substance under the World Anti Doping Code." Lia Thomas, who caused quite the uproar with her achievements may never see an Olympic podium now.

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In March 2022, Lia became the first transgender swimmer to claim a national title after winning the 500-yard freestyle at the NCAA championships in Atlanta. Following this, we did an interview with ABC's Good Morning America in which she talked about the obvious biological edge that she has over other women. Lia said, "The biggest misconception, I think, is the reason I transitioned. People will say, 'Oh, she just transitioned so she would have an advantage, so she could win.' I transitioned to be happy, to be true to myself." Lia then shared her big-time Olympic dream and said, "I intend to keep swimming. It's been a goal of mine to swim at Olympic trials for a very long time, and I would love to see that through." Regardless of any and everything, she has been at the heart of many controversies throughout her career. 

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University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas reacts after her team wins the 400 yard freestyle relay during the 2022 Ivy League Womens Swimming and Diving Championships at Blodgett Pool on February 19, 2022 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

Swimmers react to the change in FINA's policy

The change in policy had massive support as it was passed with a 71 percent majority after being put forward to 152 national federations with voting rights who were present for the congress at the Puskas Arena. Around 15 percent said no and 13 percent abstained. But this is not the end of the world for Lia Thomas and other fellow swimmers as FINA President announced that there will be a special edition opened. In the statement, Husain Al-Musallam said, "I do not want any athlete to be told they cannot compete at the highest level. I will set up a working group to set up an open category at our meets. We will be the first federation to do that."

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University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas looks on after swimming the 500 freestyle during the 2022 Ivy League Womens Swimming and Diving Championships at Blodgett Pool on February 17, 2022 in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

Australian Olympic gold medallist Emily Seebohm has welcomed FINA's decision, saying the sport could now move on with certainty. Seebohm, who won a medley relay gold medal for Australia at last year's Tokyo Games, said the decision would encourage swimmers to stay in the sport. "I’m finally happy that we have a decision, and we know where the sport’s going and what we’re going to be doing," the 30-year-old told Sky News Australia.

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Athlete Ally, an advocacy group for LGBTQI+ people in sport, said FINA's decision was "discriminatory" and "harmful". "If we truly want to protect women’s sports, we must include all women," they said in a post on twitter.

The fact that Lia has openly denied her advantage over other swimmers has led to her scrutiny. She's not the first transgender athlete to taste success and surely won't be the last. But people cannot seem to overlook the obvious biological advantage that she holds over her fellow swimmers. Thomas swam in Penn's men's swimming team for 3 seasons before joining the women's team after the year-long gap due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Some of the swimmers came in support of FINA's changing policy. Former Olympic medalist Sharron Davies said, "I can’t tell you how proud I am of my sport @fina & @fina_president for doing the science, asking the athletes/coaches and standing up for fair sport for females. Swimming will always welcome everyone no matter how you identify but fairness is the cornerstone of sport." Karen Pickering came to the support and said, "Much care and thought for transgender athletes who may not be able [email protected] in category they feel their gender ID aligns too but competitive fairness to womens category must be protected."  

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