USA Swimming Announces New Guidelines for Elite Transgender Athletes

The national governing body for competitive swimming in the United States on Tuesday released a new policy for transgender female athletes, which has been heavily criticized by some advocates.

USA swimming that has more than 400,000 members who compete in club teams up to the Olympic team Athlete Inclusion, Competitive Equality and Eligibility Policywhich is effective immediately.

It sets two requirements for trans women who are members of USA Swimming: The concentration of testosterone in their blood must be less than 5 nanomoles per liter for at least 36 consecutive months before entering a competition, and they must provide evidence that they pull through puberty because their birth-assigned sex “does not give the athlete a competitive advantage over the athlete’s cisgender competitors.”

A panel of three independent medical experts will be tasked with reviewing applicants and implementing the policy.

In a press release Tuesday, USA Swimming cited statistical data comparing male and female cisgender athletes who identify with their birth-assigned gender, showing that the top-ranked woman in 2021 would be ranked much lower in male events, on average, short and long swims.

The update comes weeks after the NCAA, which oversees collegiate athletics, announced that it will abandon its previous policy on trans athletes and instead adopt a sport-by-sport approach, similar to that of the International Olympic Committee. Under this guidance, athletes will adhere to the Trans Athlete Policy developed by their sport’s national or international governing body. For swimming, these organizations are USA Swimming and FINA, the international governing body.

The timing of the NCAA announcement – in the middle of a season – surprised many advocates and athletes, with some arguing the organization was under pressure from critics from Lia Thomas, a trans swimmer from the University of Pennsylvania who swam the fastest times in the nation , “broken into”. that season in the 200-yard freestyle and 500-yard freestyle and qualified for the NCAA championships.

USA Swimming said in a letter to its members on Tuesday that it released the new policy in response to the NCAA’s announcement and following “a reassessment of FINA’s expected schedule.” The Washington Post reported.

It’s unclear how the new policy will affect Thomas, who is not a member of USA Swimming. A spokesman for the organization said in an email that NCAA events are not included in the guidelines List of Elite Events.

An NCAA spokesman said in an email that in accordance with the group’s policy, “the Committee on Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sport will review this change at its next meeting and make recommendations to the NCAA Board of Governors in its sole discretion.” “

Until then the politics The law passed on January 19, moving to USA Swimming and FINA and requiring athletes to document their testosterone levels four weeks before championship selection, remains in effect. The policy states that an athlete’s testosterone levels must fall below the “maximum allowable level for sport,” which USA Swimming’s policy would be 5 nanomoles per liter.

Some supporters and pundits have criticized the new policy.

No other national or international sports governing body has required more than 24 months of hormone therapy (or low testosterone levels) for trans athletes, said Joanna Harper, a trans runner and visiting fellow in transgender sports performance at Loughborough University in England, who published the first published performance analysis of Transgender athletes in 2015.

She added that most guidelines call for 12 months of testosterone or hormone therapy, and there is no data to suggest that 36 months “will be more effective than 24 months at mitigating benefits.”

“I doubt it’s a coincidence that Lia has been on hormone therapy for 34 months through March 2022,” she said in an email when the NCAA championships are held.

Thomas, who declined to be interviewed, told the SwimSwam podcast in December that she started hormone therapy that included estrogen and testosterone suppressors in May 2019, so she had been on it for 2 1/2 years when she started , to compete the women’s swimming team in November.

Referring to the choice of 36 months for its policy, a spokesman for USA Swimming said that the organization – like the IOC, the NCAA and World Athletics (the international governing body for running events) – “establishes a policy and guidelines under medical and ethical advice has , and legal experts that suit athletes at every level of our sport.”

Some advocates on Twitter argued that USA Swimming specifically targeted Thomas.

“This was a decision to EXCLUSIVELY eliminate Lia Thomas from the team,” one person said.

Other argued The new guidelines will bar young trans athletes who have not had hormone therapy in years from competing. The policy states that athletes in the 13-14 age group must comply with the policy in order to set national age group records in USA swimming.

Not all trans people want to undergo hormone therapy, and the World Professional Association for Transgender Health, a nonprofit organization recognized as a leader in transgender care, states in their standards of care that treatments are very individual. Trans youth who want puberty blockers begin in the very early stages of puberty, usually between ages 8 and 13, and may begin hormone therapy in their early or mid-teens.

Some have welcomed the new policy. Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Olympic swimming champion and founder of Champion Women, a non-profit group advocating for the rights of girls and women in sport, said on social media that USA Swimming “deserves our recognition for prioritizing biological women in the new admissions guidelines.”

However, Harper has said in previous interviews with NBC News that trans athlete policies should be less about eliminating competitive advantages – which are generally permitted in sport – and more about promoting meaningful competition between trans and cisgender secure women.

“As a demographic, trans women will have an advantage in all sports (including swimming) where height is an advantage,” she said. “Height is not noticeably reduced by hormone therapy. Is that unfair?”

She said it was also uncertain whether the NCAA would apply the new policy to Thomas because it followed all of the previously established rules.

“It’s also not clear if the NCAA would suspend Lia from the NCAA championships as she was eligible weeks ago, did nothing to suffer a suspension and has consistently done whatever was asked of her by the NCAA ‘ Harper said.

USA Swimming announced the change the same day some of Thomas’ teammates released a public statement in support of their participation. Her statement was also addressed to one anonymous Interview of at least one supposed team member who criticized Thomas.

“We value her as a person, teammate and friend,” the statement said. “The feelings expressed by an anonymous member of our team are not representative of the feelings, values ​​and opinions of the entire Penn team, which consists of 39 women from diverse backgrounds.”

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