World swimming’s governing body has effectively banned transgender women from competing in women’s events. FINA members at the organization’s extraordinary general congress voted 71.5% in favor of its new “gender inclusion policy” that only permits swimmers who transitioned before age 12 to compete in women’s events.
James Pearce, spokesperson for FINA president Husain Al-Musallam, said that it is not about encouraging athletes to transition by 12, but that scientists are saying transitioning after puberty gives transgender women an unfair advantage.
"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," Al-Musallam said in a statement.
The new policy encourages the formation of an "open" category that would allow athletes to compete regardless of their sex, legal gender or gender identity.
“FINA will always welcome every athlete," Al-Musallam said. The creation of an open category will mean that everybody has the opportunity to compete at an elite level. This has not been done before, so FINA will need to lead the way. I want all athletes to feel included in being able to develop ideas during this process.”
The Human Rights Campaign called FINA's new policy "discriminatory."
"This sudden and discriminatory decision is a blatant attack on transgender athletes who have worked to comply with longstanding policies that have allowed them to participate for years without issue," said Jodi Madison, Human Rights Campaign interim president. "This policy is an example of swimming organizations caving to the avalanche of ill-informed, prejudiced attacks targeted at one particular transgender swimmer. We urge the FINA to rethink its policy and ensure inclusion for all athletes -- including transgender women – and allow them to participate in sports free from discrimination, abuse and harassment."
FINA's policy stands in contrast with the International Olympic Committee's guidelines, which tries to ensure that transgender athletes could compete in their desired gender while trying not to give any competitive advantage. The IOC developed limits on the testosterone levels of transgender female athletes. The NCAA has similar rules.