This week’s international swimming and rugby ban on transgender women opened the door to the track and field to follow what could become a wave of policy change in Olympic sports.
The announcement made by the government’s FINA swimming pool on Sunday was immediately followed by World Athletics President Sebastian Coe at the World Swimming Championships in Hungary. He said FINA’s decision was in favor of swimming and that his federation, which oversees track and field and other running sports, would review policies on transgender and inter-sex athletes by the end of the year.
“If we ever push a corner to the point where we’re making a judgment about fairness or inclusion, I’ll always fall for justice,” Coek said.
»READ MORE: Swimmer Lia Thomas Penn did not dominate the NCAA Championships. This has not stopped the discussion of trans athletes.
Experts saw that World Athletics officials could use FINA’s precedent to compete in women’s events for all transgender and intersex athletes, all of whom have differences in sexual development according to clinical terminology.
The new IFAD policy bans all transgender women from elite competitions unless they begin medical treatment to eliminate testosterone production before puberty or at the age of 12, which occurs later. USA Swimming set its policy earlier this year in the hope that it would eventually follow FINA’s path, but this week said it would take time to see how FINA’s policy affects itself.
If the track and field were to accept a similar FINA rule, Caster Semenya, an athlete with differences in sexual development, would still be out of the race at the chosen distance of 800 meters.
He may also be stripped of his 200-meter silver medal in Namibian Christine Mboma, an athlete with differences in sexual development, and hopes to compete for the trophy at the World Championships in Oregon next month. Currently, the rules of World Athletics governing these athletes do not apply to the 200-meter dash.
“For this year, I think (World Athletics) will announce a policy that is very similar to swimming,” said Ross Tucker, a World Rugby science and research consultant. “And they’ll tell you if you’ve ever been a person. If you’ve been through male puberty and testosterone-enhanced benefits, you can’t compete in women’s sports.”
The International Rugby League also banned transgender women from women’s matches until further scrutiny allowed sports regulators to pursue a cohesive inclusion policy. And the International Cycling Union last week updated its eligibility rules for transgender athletes; increased the number of time transgender athletes in women’s teams needed to drop their testosterone levels to more than two years.
FIFA, which runs football, said it was “currently reviewing its gender selection regulations in consultation with stakeholders.”
Individual sports are taking the lead due to the framework of the International Olympic Committee, which was introduced last November and entered into force in March, which put all sports under the control of its own rules on testosterone. It replaced an IOC policy that allowed transgender women who had been on hormone replacement therapy for at least 12 months to compete against other women at the Olympics.
The new, non-binding guideline suggests that testosterone levels should not determine whether someone has the right to compete, a position not taken by World Athletics.
Tucker said the “four or five” major international sports federations were expected to follow in IFAD’s footsteps, but not all others, in part because many of them are smaller operations to conduct in-depth research for science and legal teams. IFAD assigned three teams, athletes, science and medicine, and law and human rights to work on its policy.
The decisions of IFRS and other bodies are likely to be challenged in court or in the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which means that federations that adopt a rule will need scientific scrutiny and legal funding to support the policy.
“What he did for a swim wasn’t easy, and it certainly wasn’t cheap,” Tucker said.
Coe said FINA “spent $ 1,000,000 (on legal fees). We are not FIFA, but we are not lost. But there are other sports that are really scared because if they go that route, they will fail to defend this.”
Most of the athletes at the World Swimming Championships in Hungary declined to comment on the new transgender policy this week.
“I think the question is, if you’re a woman and you’re racing someone else, how would you feel doing that? It’s just fairness in the sport, ”said Australian Moesha Johnson, who finished fourth in the 1500m.
FINA’s decision also put the national swimming federations in jeopardy.
Swimming Australia said it supports fair and equitable competition for all athletes, adding in a statement: “We strongly believe in inclusion and the ability of all athletes to live the sport of swimming in a way that is consistent with their gender identity and expression.”
In the U.S., the NCAA, which directs college sports, asked USA Swimming for clarification about transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, who competed in Penn’s women’s team.
USA Swimming created a policy that showed that an athlete maintained a testosterone level of less than 5 nanomoles per liter for at least 36 months. But the NCAA decided not to adopt that rule immediately, which would make Thomas eligible for the national championship in March, where he won the 500-meter individual title.
When it released its policy, USA Swimming said it would remain in force until FINA approved its policy. In a statement on Wednesday, USA Swimming said that “now should take our time to understand the impact of this international standard on our current policy.”
Thomas said he would like to continue at the Olympics; if he does, he would put his time in the mix to win at least one place in the 2024 Olympics in Paris.
Thomas ’case can ultimately be seen as the pinnacle of international competition due to the relative lack of transgender athletes in elite sports, Tucker said.
“People are not very good at understanding a problem until they are faced with it as a physical thing,” Tucker said.