Lia Thomas Banned From Competing At An Elite Level After FINA Restricts Trans Women From Swimming In Events

Trans swimmer Lia Thomas grabbed the attention of the whole country when he identified as a woman, joined the University of Pennsylvania swim team, and broke records and won medals at various meets.

By Gina Florio1 min read
Lia Thomas

Thomas' infiltration of women's collegiate swim has sparked a national conversation about the presence of transgender athletes in sports. FINA, the international federation recognized by the International Olympic Committee (IOC), has just implemented new rules that will have a huge impact on Thomas and any other trans athlete that attempts to participate in women's sports.

Lia Thomas Banned from Competing after FINA Restricts Trans Women from Swimming in Events

FINA instituted a new "gender inclusion policy" in its new 24-page policy that only allows trans swimmers to compete if they have transitioned before the age of 12. “This is not saying that people are encouraged to transition by the age of 12. It’s what the scientists are saying, that if you transition after the start of puberty, you have an advantage, which is unfair,” James Pearce, spokesperson for FINA president Husain Al-Musallam, told The Associated Press.

“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.”

Pearce said there are no trans women currently competing in elite levels of swimming, and it sounds like Thomas will not be permitted to compete at an elite level in the future. The members of FINA voted 71.5% in favor of this move after listening to an athlete group, a science and medicine group, and a legal and human rights group.

The organization also recommended an "open competition category." They set up a "new working group that will spend the next six months looking at the most effective ways to set up this new category.”

“No one quite knows how this is going to work. And we need to include a lot of different people, including transgender athletes, to work out how it would work,” Pearce said. “So there are no details of how that would work. The open category is something that will start being discussed tomorrow.”

FINA said it recognizes “that some individuals and groups may be uncomfortable with the use of medical and scientific terminology related to sex and sex-linked traits (but) some use of sensitive terminology is needed to be precise about the sex characteristics that justify separate competition categories.”