Transgender athletes will not be competing against women in the Olympics’ swimming competitions as they originally anticipated. The decision was made by FINA, the International Olympic Committee’s trusted swimming authority.
FINA’s new policy is based in data that reveals how transgender athletes possess an unfair physical advantage over women.
“Because of the performance gap that emerges at puberty between biological males as a group and biological females as a group, separate sex competition is necessary. Without eligibility standards based on biological sex or sex-linked traits, we are very unlikely to see biological females in finals, on podiums, or in championship positions; and in sports and events involving collisions and projectiles, biological female athletes would be at greater risk of injury.”
The policy requires that for a male-to-female transgender athlete to compete against women, they must have “had male puberty suppressed beginning at Tanner Stage 2 [a measure of physical development] or before age 12, whichever is later, and they have since continuously maintained their testosterone levels in serum (or plasma) below 2.5 nmol/L.”
Females transitioning to male may compete against men. They may also compete against women if “the testosterone use was for less than a year in total (i.e., from the date of first use to the date of last use) and did not take place during pubertal growth and development,” and if “their testosterone levels in serum (or plasma) are back to pre-treatment normal and any associated anabolic effects have been eliminated.”
Olympic gold medalist Donna de Varona, who came to fame in the 60s winning three gold medals in swimming competitions, expressed favor over the decision.
“I’m very proud of FINA for spending months and months and months talking to researchers, looking at science-based peer review research on the impact of puberty on male bodies and what impact that would have if you are trying to mitigate your high testosterone and if you could ever do that.”
Varona continued by addressing Lia Thomas’ displacement of three female athletes’ would-have-been victories.
“Lia Thomas, in leaving the men’s team, and she did follow the rules, she followed policy, left an open spot that could have been filled…got on the women’s team and she did not just displace one varsity swimmer who trained all her life since the age of 10, but displaced three swimmers from competing and getting on the bus to go to the Ivy League championships.”
The policy will end Thomas’ hopes of competing against women in the Olympics.
Thomas’ smashing of records and victory in women’s NCAA championships created controversy and blowback both inside and outside of sports. Female athletes have expressed frustration at being forced to compete against someone who, only a short time ago, was a swimmer on the men’s team. Thomas has been cited by many as an example of why transgender athletes should not compete against women.
FINA President Husain Al-Musallam affirmed the decision and noted a third category, an open division in which athletes may participate regardless of their biological sex. This middle-ground option has been favored by many including Varona.
“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 … FINA will always welcome every athlete. 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.”
Other sports governing boards have taken varying approaches to transgender athletes. The NCAA has been very permissive of allowing transgender athletes to compete against women. World Rugby and UCI on the other hand have not. World Rugby banned transgender athletes from competing against women in 2020, and UCI, the world governing body for cycling sports, recently barred biological male athlete Emily Bridges from competing in the British National Omnium Championships following threats of boycotts from other cyclists. UCI then changed its standards so that transgender athletes must test below 2.5 nmol/L of testosterone for two years.
By contrast, FIFA, which is the world’s largest soccer organization is now considering taking the far more radical step of dropping the testosterone measurements for transgender athletes who compete against women.
Some argue that biological males have no advantage, but that argument is soundly rejected by most as science shows a glaring difference between men and women. Others argue that a year of testosterone suppression is sufficient to erase the advantages, but again science shows otherwise. A biological male who has gone through puberty gains such a physical advantage — not just in muscle mass and muscle strength, but also in lung capacity, speed, stamina, metabolic rate, etc. — over women that it would be difficult to ever erase.
Just consider the words of Serena Williams, one of the greatest tennis players in the history of the sport. Despite her years of dominance over other women, Williams has said she never wants to compete against men.
In a 2013 interview with David Letterman she said, “If I were to play Andy Murray, I would lose 6–0, 6–0 in five to six minutes, maybe 10 minutes. The men are a lot faster and they serve harder, they hit harder. It’s just a different game. I love to play women’s tennis. I only want to play girls, because I don’t want to be embarrassed.”
Or remember when a team of under 15-year-old boys beat the USA women’s team, one of the most dominant in the world, in a scrimmage.
The proposal by swimming’s governing board is a win for fairness and the idea of an open division could help some of the issues. However, even it has its problems.
The fact is that transgender athletes need to be competing against their own biological sex and need to be encouraged to accept who they were born to be. The segment of the policy which says that a person must have undergone treatments to suppress puberty by 12 years old is good for women’s sports, but horrifying for society. Not insignificantly, the new rules could act as an incentive to pressure boys into choosing or being place on puberty blockers and female hormone treatments at a prepubescent age so they can compete against girls and eventually women. It should never be permissible for a child that young to undergo such a damaging and irreversible treatment.
There are several ways the Bible speaks to this matter. The obvious would be that God created male and female, two distinct sexes as seen in Genesis, and with distinctive harmonious roles. So there’s a right and wrong pattern here, but there’s also a violation of “love thy neighbor” if the Church goes silent on this matter, or worse, shows support for it. Transgenderism is contrary to Scripture and it’s also contrary to science and good health. People are being harmed by these initiatives that go against natural health and biology.
If the Church is to be active in culture, which by all accounts it should be, then discipleship must be paired with a demand for our leaders to instill policies that will not aid in the suffering of those with gender dysphoria or other health issues. Good leadership helps the hurting. Bad leadership advances suffering — and oftentimes with a sweet or “wise” lacing of deception.
Church, it is imperative that we engage culture and that we demand truth in our policies. It is imperative that we defend “the least of these” (Matt. 25:40) who are being crushed by the world, deceived by their leaders, and then left to suffer. Church, let us not be a body of Christ that maligns those who are suffering but defends them with aggression against oppressive and evil leadership.