The World Aquatics Federation (WA) announced today that it will introduce an ‘Open Category’ at the first leg of the 2023 World Cup Series in Berlin, Germany, on October 6-8. This will give transgender athletes who have not been able to compete in women’s events at international competitions the opportunity to compete at an elite level.
During last year’s World Championships in Budapest (Hungary), the World Swimming Federation held an extraordinary session and decided that “transgender athletes who have transitioned from male to female must prove that they did not undergo male puberty (before the age of 12) in order to compete in the women’s events. This meant that the athlete had to have undergone secondary sex characteristics, in which male physical characteristics are revealed, to be recognized as a woman.
The World Federation made concrete plans to create the open category during the World Championships in Fukuoka (Japan) last month. The debut event in Berlin will feature 50m and 100m events across all strokes. There is a possibility that longer events will be introduced in the future. In order to compete at the World Cup, transgender athletes must first register with their national swimming federation.
“When we established our policy on the eligibility of male and female athletes, we decided to look at creating an open category, and a team of experts has been working to realize this commitment,” said FINA President Husain Al Musallam. The German Swimming Federation, which is hosting the World Cup in October, welcomed the World Federation’s decision to allow transgender athletes to compete, saying, “Berlin is a center of diversity and inclusion in Germany and the perfect location for such a progressive project.”
The issue of transgender female athletes has been controversial. Leah Thomas (24-185 cm), an American athlete who competed in women’s college sports without undergoing male-to-female transition surgery, is one example. The argument is that it’s not fair to “biological female athletes” if someone who is already physically developed as a man is recognized as a woman simply by lowering their male hormone levels.
Paula Scanlon, who played for Thomas and the University of Pennsylvania women’s team, described herself as a “sexual assault survivor” at a House Judiciary Committee hearing last month. “We were forced to undress in front of Thomas, with his male genitalia intact, 18 times a week,” said Scanlon, who now serves as a spokesperson for the Independent Women’s Forum. Some girls had to change in the restroom,” she testified.
Scanlon criticized the school’s response. “University officials ignored our protests and added Thomas to the team. When we expressed our concerns about sharing a locker room, the school instead offered us psychological services to help us feel more comfortable undressing in front of him,” she said. “Thomas was a top 500 athlete in the country when he was a boy,” Scanlon continued, “but he became a champion on the women’s side. Women have lost their place on the podium.”
Thomas began playing for the University of Pennsylvania men’s team in 2017 under the name William, but in May 2019, she “came out” as a trans woman (born male but identifies as female) using hormone replacement therapy. She also changed her name to Lia. She began competing on the women’s side in the 2021-2022 season and rose to the top of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA). In March of last year, she became the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I event in any sport when she finished first in the 500-yard freestyle (457 meters) at the NCAA National Championships 안전놀이터.