FINA, the international swimming federation recognized by the International Olympic Committee, has enacted new competition rules that exclude males who have reached puberty from participating in women’s competitions.
The announcement comes after months of controversy that has followed transgender swimmer Lia Thomas’ participation in NCAA competitions and college championships.
FINA now says that biological males who have experienced puberty will be ineligible to compete as women. The new rules provide that only male-to-female transgender participants who “transitioned” before reaching age 12 will be allowed in female competition.
The governing body also created new categories for transgender athletes who do not qualify to participate as women.
FINA said that its new rules are intended to bring “full inclusion” to swimming without impacting “competitive fairness.” Executive Director Brent Nowicki said that the new policy is “comprehensive, science-based, and inclusive.”
FINA President Husain Al-Musallam said that the organization will “always welcome every athlete.” He added that the creation of the new “open category” will give every participant a full opportunity to compete at elite levels and said he was pleased that FINA is leading the way.
LGBTQ activist group Athlete Ally claimed that the new FINA rules are “discriminatory” and limit transgender athletes.
Observers will now closely monitor the International Olympics Committee to see if it will adopt the new FINA policy. If it follows its normal process of adopting the qualifying rules of the governing bodies of official Olympics sports, biological males will be excluded from women’s competition.
FINA membership considered statements from scientists, physicians, and sports experts in considering the new rules. They were given substantial evidence that shows puberty gives clear physical advantages to males over even the most advanced female swimmers.
Dr. Michael Joyner told the members that testosterone levels produced through puberty alter the physiological capacity of human performance and said sex-based differences become “clearly evident by age 12.” He said that even if testosterone is suppressed after that point, its “performance-enhancing effects will be retained.”
Physiologist expert Dr. Sandra Hunter provided her findings that physical differences between boys and girls are “substantial by 14 years or older.” She added that the presence of testosterone and the Y chromosome provide physical advantages that are “structural in origin.” That means that advantages in post-pubescent males in areas like height, heart size, lung capacity, and limb length cannot be changed with later suppression of testosterone.
Several of the experts providing statements to FINA suggested the creation of a new transgender category as a reasonable accommodation that preserves the integrity of women’s competitions.