FINA has found a fair solution to the issue of transgender people in sport

After American swimmer Leah Thomas won an NCAA championship in March, FINA, the international body that oversees the sport, ruled Sunday that transgender athletes can no longer compete in women’s events unless they transitioned before 12- years old. Even then, they will have to undergo a testosterone test.

Instead, FINA will seek to create “open” divisions for transgender competition if there is demand.

“We must protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we must also protect the competitive fairness of our events, especially in the women’s category,” FINA president Hussein Al-Musalam said in a statement.

It was the simplest and fairest solution to a problem that arose before the governing bodies knew what to do. FINA’s decision is likely to spread to swimming and other sports.

World Athletics, which oversees athletics, has already said it will review its policy, and president Sebastian Coe, a four-time Olympic medalist himself, has backed FINA’s approach. Other sports are sure to follow, or at least should.

In the long term, creating a third division and eliminating the perception that transgender athletes are a “threat” or in any way controversial, political or tinged with negativity should do more to promote acceptance than the current setup.

While the issue of transgender athletes has undoubtedly been hijacked at times by bigots and pandering politicians, that doesn’t mean the issues haven’t been legitimate, even for many who are well-intentioned and inclusive.

Casting this as a zero-sum problem was counterproductive and wrong. This is not a litmus test for whether to support young people going through difficult — and sometimes dangerous — times in their lives. You can be 100 percent committed to supporting their causes and still 100 percent support FINA’s decision.

And if the day comes when transgender athletes can excite fans and spectators in their own competitions free of sports controversy, they will likely do wonders by displaying the same talent, dedication, work ethic and personality as other athletes. They have amazing stories to tell and contests to run.

University of Pennsylvania swimmer Leah Thomas accepts the victory trophy for the 500 freestyle finals as second-place finisher Emma Wyant and third-place finisher Erika Sullivan look on. (Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

It was clear that Thomas, who was a good but hardly a champion swimmer as a man, had an undue advantage despite following all current guidelines.

Taken to its logical conclusion, where there may be a dozen or a dozen transgender athletes competing in competition, female athletes will be excluded from elite competition or even put at physical risk in contact sports such as soccer and basketball.

“Without eligibility standards based on biological sex or gender-related traits, it is highly unlikely that we will see biological women in finals, on podiums or in championship positions,” FINA’s policy paper concludes. “And in sports and events involving collisions and projectiles, biological female athletes would be at greater risk of injury.”

Previously, FINA and other organizations tried to address this by testing testosterone levels. However, his research showed that obvious advantages can come from going through puberty as a boy – in the case of swimming, things like height, arm length, hand and foot size, and so on.

No one wants to stop anyone from swimming. FINA is in the business of promoting it. Yet the lack of a real competitive chance for a biological female may reduce participation as much as anything else. Same with any other sport.

“It is my responsibility to protect the integrity of women’s sport and we take that very seriously,” said World Athletics’ Coe. ” … And I’ve always made it clear: If we’re ever pushed into a corner where we have to make a judgment call about fairness or inclusion, I’ll always side with fairness.

“You have to, and it’s my responsibility,” Coe continued. “Of course, this is a public problem. If one of my colleagues here on my team suddenly becomes transgender, it doesn’t matter to me. They will continue to do the same job with skill and aplomb just the way they were before they made this transition.

“This is not possible in sports. It’s fundamental to performance and integrity, and that to me is the big, big difference.”

Coe is right, at least according to current science. So good on FINA for stepping up and making the correct payment. And good for others who will follow suit.

That should have been the solution.

Hopefully, the same energy on both sides that went into the controversy over this issue is now spent promoting access to competition and then celebrating the athletic achievements of both transgender and biologically female athletes.

That would be a win for everyone.

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