Former Miss Universe Australia Maria Thattil has condemned a new policy banning transgender women from competing against biological women in swimming.FINA, the international sports federation for swimming, announced on Sunday that transgender women can now only compete in the organisation’s women’s races if they have completed their transition by the age of 12. Instead, a new category will be established to accommodate transgender athletes.
Discussing the ruling on Today Extra on Monday, Ms Thattil branded the decision ‘counter intuitive’ and said it sets a ‘dangerous precedent’ for the future of sport. ‘I firmly believe sport is for all Australians, and I think irrespective of your sexuality, your gender identity, your culture, you should be able to play and [know] there’s a space for you’, said Ms Thattil, who recently came out as bisexual.
She continued: ‘And I do feel like an outright ban, and even having a separate category [for trans swimmers], it is counterintuitive and it’s not inclusive.’ While the likes of trans activist Caitlin Jenner and American swimmer Riley Gaines have lauded FINA’s decision as a win for ‘fairness’, Ms Thattil believes the policy change sends the wrong message.
‘When we’ve got human rights commissions and sporting bodies that have actually set out guidelines for how we can be trans-inclusive and why it’s essential, I do think this is setting a dangerous precedent for sport,’ she warned. Ms Thattil, 29, said the new rules ‘police womanhood’, with transgender women ‘disproportionately affected’.
To accommodate the transgender athletes, the organisation is setting up an ‘open category’ for transgender athletes to compete against one another at events including the World Aquatics Championships, World Swimming Championships, and Swimming World Cup. A working group will spend the next six months to determine how the ‘open category’ would operate.
‘We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events, especially the women’s category at FINA competitions,’ FINA President Husain Al-Musallam said in a statement.
Such a policy would prevent an athlete like Lia Thomas from competing in the international events that would raise her standing in international swimming and potentially land her a place at the Olympics which she said in a recent interview she would like to compete at in the future.
Thomas’ quick rise to the top of the women’s charts, though, has caused an uproar across the United States, with many arguing that she has an unfair physical advantage over her fellow competitors. The decision to ban transgender athletes from FINA events was made during the federation’s extraordinary general congress as the world championships take place in Budapest.
Members of the organisation heard from a transgender task force comprising leading medical, legal and sports figures, which first convened to discuss the issue after the International Olympic Committee urged individual sports federations to create guidance on transgender athletes in November.
At the time, the IOC urged the federations to shift their focus from individual testosterone levels, and called for evidence to prove when a performance advantage existed.
The experts concluded in their policy that there needs to be eligibility standards based on biological sex, writing: ‘Without eligibility standards based on biological sex or sex-linked traits, we are very unlikely to see biological females in finals, on podiums on in championship positions.’
As the scientists explained, biological males see their testosterone levels increase 20 fold during puberty, while the levels remain low in biological women during puberty often around the age of 12.‘A biological female athlete cannot overcome that advantage through training or nutrition. Nor can they take additional testosterone to obtain the same advantage, because testosterone is a prohibited substance under the World Anti Doping Code.’
The policy was passed with a 71 per cent majority after it was put to the members of 152 national federations with voting rights who had gathered for the congress at the Puskas Arena.
Around 15 percent voted no to the policy on eligibility in the men’s and women’s competition categories, while 13 percent abstained. Transgender rights has become a major talking point as sports seek to balance inclusivity while ensuring there is no unfair advantage.
The debate intensified after Thomas, a swimmer from the University of Pennsylvania, became the first transgender NCAA champion in Division I history after winning the women’s 500-yard freestyle earlier this year.
Thomas swam for the Pennsylvanian men’s team for three seasons before starting hormone replacement therapy in spring 2019.
A wave of doctors suggested Thomas and other trans female athletes will always have an unfair advantage in some sports because they cannot undo puberty, when their biological male bodies were flooded with testosterone. They say that one or even four years of hormonal therapy is not enough to reverse what happens to the male teenage body.
‘There are social aspects to sport, but physiology and biology underpin it. Testosterone is the 800-pound gorilla,’ Michael J. Joyner, the Mayo Clinic doctor, said in an interview with The New York Times.
‘I think that evidence so far would suggest a period of a year, two, three or even four years [of hormone therapy] is insufficient.’ But last month, Thomas shrugged off the concerns about her apparently unfair advantage.
She said some ‘cisgender’ women a term used to describe someone whose gender identity is the same as the one they were given at birth have more testosterone, bigger hands and feet, and are taller than their competitors.
Thomas also insisted insisted that she did not transition to perform better in the league tables, explaining: ‘Trans people don’t transition for athletics. We transition to be happy and authentic and to be ourselves.
‘Transition to get an advantage is not something that factors into our decisions,’ she said. ‘I don’t need anybody’s permission to be myself,’ she said. She also said anyone who says she isn’t allowed to compete as a woman is transphobic, regardless of whether or not they support her right to transition.
‘You can’t go halfway and be like “I support trans people but only to a certain point. If you support trans women and they’ve met all the NCAA requirements, I don’t know if you can say something like that. Trans women are not a threat to women’s sport.’