Lia Thomas barred from competing in women’s events after swimming body’s transgender vote

In this file photo, University of Pennsylvania athlete Lia Thomas prepares for the 500 meter freestyle at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships, March 17, 2022, at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. (John Bazemore/AP)

Transgender women have been effectively banned from competing in women’s events, swimming’s international governing body ruled Sunday.

In voting to restrict the participation of transgender athletes, FINA members announced a new “gender inclusion policy” that permits only swimmers who transitioned before age 12 to compete in women’s events.

Transgender rights have been a hotly debated issue in swimming after University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas became the first transgender NCAA champion in Division I history. She won the women’s 500-yard freestyle in March, leading to some parents and competitors to complain that she had an unfair advantage.

Thomas competed on the men’s team at Penn before transitioning. She competed as a woman for the first time in 2021-22 after meeting NCAA standards for competition after undergoing testosterone suppression therapy for more than two years.

FINA members voted 71.5% in favor of a policy that requires transgender swimmers to have completed their transition by age 12 to be able to compete.

The sweeping new set of regulations passed by Fédération Internationale de Natation does not leave trans athletes out entirely. It also creates a new “open competition category” to accommodate nontraditional athletes.

“This is not saying that people are encouraged to transition by the age of 12. It’s what the scientists are saying, that if you transition after the start of puberty, you have an advantage, which is unfair,” a spokesperson for FINA president Husain Al-Musallam told The Associated Press.

There are currently no transgender women competing in elite levels of swimming, the association confirmed.

But the move could effectively bar someone like Thomas, who has said she has Olympic aspirations.

She asserted last month that she does not have an unfair biological advantage. “Trans women are not a threat to women’s sports,” she said on “Good Morning America.”

The goal is to avoid giving people who transitioned after the start of puberty an unfair advantage.