(Reuters) – USA Swimming has unveiled a new policy that would allow transgender athletes to swim in elite events by setting out criteria that aims to mitigate any unfair advantages, such as those associated with someone who was male at birth competing in women’s events.
The Athlete Inclusion, Competitive Equity and Eligibility Policy, which is effective immediately, attempts to maintain a level playing field for cisgender athletes – those whose gender identity is the same as their sex assigned at birth – while being inclusive of transgender competitors.
Transgender rights has long been a controversial and politically divisive issue in the United States from sports to serving in the military and even what bathrooms people are allowed to use.
The issue gained some level of urgency for USA Swimming given the emergence of University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, who competed on the men’s team for three years before transitioning and moving to the women’s team and setting multiple program records.
The policy, to be implemented by a panel of three independent medical experts, will look to ensure that “prior physical development of the athlete as a male … does not give the athlete a competitive advantage over the athlete’s cisgender female competitors.”
It will also test to make sure testosterone is below a certain level – 5 nanomoles per liter continuously for at least 36 months – in transgender athletes who wish to compete against cisgender female swimmers.
“USA Swimming has and will continue to champion gender equity and the inclusivity of all cisgender and transgender women and their rights to participate in sport, while also fervently supporting competitive equity at elite levels of competition,” the national governing body said in a release.
USA Swimming said the criteria will remain in place until world swimming’s governing body, FINA, which is in the process of developing its own gender eligibility rules, releases its policy.
Once an athlete’s request has been approved, USA Swimming said the athlete may not initiate the process to change back to a prior competition category for one year following the date the initial request was approved.
The policy announced on Tuesday applies to all athletes who wish to swim in a competition category different than the biological gender assigned to them at birth.
The issue from a competitive standpoint is somewhat less controversial for trans athletes assigned a female gender at birth looking to compete in men’s events. USA Swimming cited data showing that the top-ranked female athlete in 2021 would on average be ranked below 500th in male events that year.