Prohibitions on transgender women in international swimming and rugby this week opened the door to athletics to consider following what could become a wave of changes in Olympic sports policy.
Sunday’s announcement by swimming’s governing body, FINA, was quickly followed by a demonstration of support from World Athletics President Sebastian Coe, who was in Hungary for the World Swimming Championships. He said FINA’s decision was in the best interests of swimming and that his own federation, which oversees athletics and other running sports, would review its policies on transgender athletes and intersex athletes later this year.
“If we are ever cornered until the moment we judge justice or inclusion, I will always be on the side of justice,” Coe said.
»READ MORE: Penn swimmer Leah Thomas does not dominate the NCAA Championship. This did not stop the debate over transatlets.
Experts see this as a signal that World Athletics staff can use FINA’s precedent to block all transgender and intersex athletes – the latter, referred to in clinical terminology as having gender differences – to compete in women’s competitions.
FINA’s new policy prohibits all transgender women from competing in elite competitions unless they have started medical treatment to suppress testosterone production before puberty or before the age of 12, whichever comes later. USA Swimming introduced its own policy earlier this year, with the idea that it would eventually follow FINA’s example, but said this week it would take time to see how FINA’s policy affects its own.
If athletics adopts such a rule as FINA, Custer Semenya, an athlete with gender differences, will still be kept out of the competition at her chosen distance, 800 meters.
This could also prevent Namibia’s 200m silver medalist Kristin Mboma, who is also an athlete with gender differences and is expected to compete for the title at the Oregon World Championships next month. Currently, the rules of World Athletics governing such athletes do not apply to the 200-meter dash.
“Until later this year, I think (World Athletics) will announce a policy that is very similar to swimming,” said Ross Tucker, a consultant for science and research at World Rugby. “And they will say that if someone ever goes through male puberty and gets the benefits of testosterone, they can’t compete in women’s sports.”
The International Rugby League has also banned transgender women from participating in women’s matches, while more polls prevent sports regulators from coming up with a coherent inclusion policy. The International Cycling Union last week updated its eligibility rules for transgender athletes; he increased the period during which transgender athletes on women’s teams had to lower their testosterone levels to two years instead of one.
FIFA, which runs football, said it was “currently reviewing its gender eligibility rules in consultation with expert stakeholders”.
Individual sports are taking the lead, as the International Olympic Committee framework, which was introduced last November and went into effect in March, has made all sports accountable for their own testosterone rules. He replaced the IOC’s policy of allowing transgender women who had been on hormone replacement therapy for at least 12 months to compete in the Olympics against other women.
The new guide, which is not binding, recommends that testosterone levels not determine whether someone is eligible to compete – a position that World Athletics has not adopted.
Tucker said he expects perhaps the “big four or five” international sports federations to follow FINA’s example, but not all others – in part because many of them are smaller operations that do not have scientific and legal teams to do research. for in-depth policies. FINA has commissioned three groups, athletes, science and medicine and legal and human rights, to work on its policy.
Decisions by FINA and other organizations are likely to be challenged either in court or in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which means that federations that adopt a rule will need research and legal funding to support the policy.
“What swimming did was not easy and it was certainly not cheap,” Tucker said.
Coe said FINA spent $ 1,000,000 (on legal fees). We are not FIFA, but we are not deprived. But there are other sports that are really afraid that if they go down this path, they will go bankrupt in defense of it. “
This week, swimmers at the World Swimming Championships in Hungary deviated mainly from comments on the new transgender policy.
“I think the question is, if you’re a woman there and you’re competing with someone else, how would you feel if you did that?” It’s just about justice in the sport, “said Australian Mosha Johnson, who finished fourth in the 1,500 meters.
FINA’s decision also prompted national swimming federations to quarrel.
Swimming Australia said it supported fair and equitable competition for all athletes, adding in a statement: “We also strongly believe in inclusion and the opportunity for all athletes to experience the sport of swimming in a way that is consistent with their gender identity and expression. ”
In the United States, the NCAA, which runs college sports, has sought clarity from USA Swimming over transgender swimmer Leah Thomas, who competes on Penn’s women’s team.
USA Swimming has developed a policy that requires evidence that an athlete has maintained a testosterone level below 5 nanomoles per liter for a minimum period of 36 months. But the NCAA decided not to immediately adopt this rule, which would make Thomas inadmissible for the national championship in March, where she won the individual title of 500 yards.
When publishing its policy, USA Swimming said it would remain in force until FINA adopts its own policy. In a statement Wednesday, USA Swimming said “it will now take time for us to understand the impact of this international standard on our existing policies.”
Thomas said he would like to continue the Olympics; if she does, her time will probably put her in the mix to win at least a place in the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
The Thomas case could ultimately be seen as a turning point in international competition, given the relative lack of transgender athletes in elite sports, Tucker said.
“People aren’t really good at understanding a problem until it’s right in front of them as a physical thing,” Tucker said. “They almost have to be hit in the nose before they think something’s real. And Leah Thomas made it real. ”