What FINA Gets Wrong in its New Trans Athlete Participation Policy

Early this week, the International Swimming Federation (FINA) announced its new transgender participation policy, which effectively bars trans female athletes from competing in women’s events. FINA’s proposal, while having the advantage of simplicity, is nevertheless, incomplete. Here’s why:

  1. FINA’s new policy prohibits trans individuals who did not start hormone replacement therapy at age 12 from competing and there are a couple of issues here. First, this age limit seems arbitrary. Although boys start puberty at age 12 on average, the onset of puberty varies widely, typically from ages 8 to 14. If FINA truly wants to limit biological advantages, why are they taking aim at such a broad range of dates? Science isn’t black and white here, so slapping a narrow prohibition seems unnecessary and inaccurate. Second, in states like Texas, where parents of trans kids can be charged with child abuse for providing gender-affirming care, trans athletes will all be barred from competing, should smaller governing bodies like the NCAA, follow FINA’s lead (and lesser organizations are likely to do so).
  2. FINA is proposing adopting an “open” category in which trans athletes can compete against each other. While this may sound logical in theory, it’s unlikely that there will be enough trans athletes to field an entire event. According to Outsports, the NCAA has only seen 33 trans athletes in its history, male or female, across all of its sports. FINA may be an international organization, but trans athletes represent an incredibly small sliver of the world’s population as well. An even smaller sliver are elite swimmers, so FINA’s proposed “open” category will likely not comprise of enough competitors to fill a podium.
  3. Trans athletes are not a significant threat to fairness in women’s sports (and I’ve outlined why here).

Katie (M.K.) Lever is a former Division 1 athlete and current doctoral candidate at the University of Texas at Austin where she studies NCAA discourse and policy. She is also a freelance sportswriter and creative writer on the side. She is the author of a new book Surviving the Second Tier available on AMAZON. Follow Katie on  Twitter and Instagram@leverfever.

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