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The Associated Press
The banning of transgender women from international swimming and rugby this week has opened the door for athletics to consider doing the same in what could turn into a wave of policy changes in Olympic sports.
Swimming’s governing body FINA’s announcement on Sunday was quickly followed by a show 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 track and field and other running sports, would revise its policies on transgender and intersex athletes at the end. of the year.
“If we are ever pushed into a corner to the point where we pass judgment on fairness or inclusion, I will always fall on the side of fairness,” Coe said.
Experts saw this as a signal that World Athletics officials could use the FINA precedent to block all transgender and intersex athletes – the latter referred to by clinical terminology as having differences in sexual development – from participating in women’s events.
FINA’s new policy bans all transgender women from elite competition if they haven’t started medical treatment to suppress testosterone production before the onset of puberty or by age 12, according to the latest eventuality. USA Swimming introduced its own policy earlier this year, with the idea that it would eventually follow FINA’s lead, but this week said it would need time to see how the policy of FINA would affect his.
If athletics adopted a rule similar to FINA’s, Caster Semenya, an athlete with differences in sexual development, would still be barred from races at her chosen distance, 800 meters.
It could also rule out 200 meters silver medalist Christine Mboma of Namibia, who is also an athlete with differences in sexual development and is set to challenge for the title at the world championships in Oregon next month. Currently, World Athletics rules governing these athletes do not apply to the 200 meter race.
“By the end of the year, I think (World Athletics) will have announced a policy very similar to swimming,” said Ross Tucker, science and research consultant for World Rugby. “And they’ll say if a person ever went through male puberty and got the benefits associated with testosterone, they can’t compete in women’s sports.”
The International Rugby League has also banned transgender women from participating in women’s matches until more research allows the sport’s regulators to come up with a consistent inclusion policy. And the International Cycling Union last week updated its eligibility rules for transgender athletes; it increased the period over which transgender athletes on women’s teams must lower their testosterone levels to two years instead of one.
FIFA, which governs football, said it was “is currently revising its gender eligibility rules in consultation with expert stakeholders.”
Individual sports are taking the lead due to the International Olympic Committee framework that was introduced last November and came into effect in March, placing all sports in charge of their own rules regarding testosterone.
It replaced an IOC policy that allowed transgender women who had been on hormone replacement therapy for at least 12 months to compete in the Olympics against other women.
The new guidelines, which are not binding, recommend that testosterone levels should not determine whether someone is eligible to compete – a position World Athletics has not taken.
Tucker said he might be expecting the “four or five big” international sports federations need to follow FINA’s lead, but not all the others – in part because many are smaller operations that lack scientific and legal teams to do thorough policy research. FINA had tasked three groups, Athletes, Science and Medicine, and Legal and Human Rights, to work on its policy.
FINA decisions and those of other organizations are likely to be challenged in court or before the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which means that federations adopting a rule will need scientific studies and legal funding. to support their policy.
“What swimming did was not easy, and it certainly wasn’t cheap,” said Tucker.
Coe says FINA “spent $1,000,000 (in legal fees). We are not FIFA but we are not deprived. But there are other sports that are really worried that if they go down that road, they’ll go broke defending it.
Athletes at the world swimming championships in Hungary mostly avoided commenting on the new transgender policy this week.
“I think the question is, if you’re a woman and you race with someone else, how would you feel doing that? It’s just a matter of fairness in the sport. said Australian Moesha Johnson, who finished fourth in the 1,500 metres.
FINA’s decision has also upset national swimming federations.
Swimming Australia said it endorses fair and equitable competition for all athletes, adding in a statement: “We also strongly believe in inclusivity 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 governs college sports, had sought clarification from USA Swimming because of transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, who competed on Penn’s women’s team.
USA Swimming has created a policy requiring proof that an athlete has maintained a testosterone level below 5 nanomoles per liter for a minimum period of 36 months. But the NCAA decided against immediately adopting the rule, which would have made Thomas ineligible for the national championships in March, where she won the 500-yard individual title.
When releasing its policy, USA Swimming said it would remain in place until FINA adopts its own policy. In a statement Wednesday, USA Swimming said it “Let’s now take our time to understand the impact of this international standard on our existing policy.”
Thomas said she would like to pursue the Olympics; if she does, her time would likely put her in contention to at least earn a spot at the Olympic Trials for the 2024 Games in Paris.
The Thomas case could ultimately be seen as the tipping point for international competition, given the relative lack of transgender athletes in elite sports, Tucker said.
“People aren’t really very good at understanding a problem until it’s in front of them as a physical thing,” Tucker said, “They almost have to be punched in the nose before they think anything is real. And Lia Thomas made it real.