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USA Swimming Releases New Policy Amid Transgender Debate

02-02-2022
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USA Swimming released a new operating policy manual Tuesday amid the controversy surrounding transgender athlete Lia Thomas' participation in the sport. 

In December, the University of Pennsylvania senior qualified for the NCAA championship in the 200-yard and 500-yard freestyle and broke three school records and two national records at an Ohio swim meet.  

But Thomas' participation on the women's team has sparked debate over trans inclusion in sports and whether it is fair to biological female athletes.

USA Swimming released its Athlete Inclusion, Competitive Equality, and Eligibility Policy on its website to clear up how the organization plans to proceed with competitions.

"While recognizing the need for the aforementioned guidelines in elite competition, sport is an important vehicle for positive physical and mental health, and, for this reason, USA Swimming remains steadfast in its continued commitment to greater inclusivity at the non-elite levels," the organization said.

"In order to balance these two priorities, specific guidelines have been developed for both non-elite and elite athletes and elite events. At the non-elite level, an inclusive process has been established by which an athlete can elect to change their competition category in order for them to experience the sport of swimming in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity and expression," it continued.

"At the elite level, a policy has been created for transgender athlete participation in the U.S. that relies on science and medical evidence-based methods to provide a level-playing field for elite cisgender women, and to mitigate the advantages associated with male puberty and physiology," it added. "Elite athletes shall include any athlete who has achieved a time standard and desires to participate in elite events as defined in the policy."

USA Swimming noted that an expert medical panel would implement the policy. Part of their criteria is to ensure that an athlete's testosterone level is not above 5 nmol/L continuously for at least thirty-six (36) months before the date of application.

Thomas, who came out as transgender in 2019, has undergone two years of testosterone suppression to be able to participate in the sport. 

However, one of her teammates, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told Fox News that allowing Thomas to compete in the sport creates an unfair balance for female athletes. 

"It's not just the difference between two girls and how one might have slightly larger lungs and that gives them a slight advantage," she said. "These are monumental advantages that biological males just develop through puberty, and it's not something that a year of [hormone treatments] can suppress because they still have all the muscle mass they had from the last 20 years."

Thomas is set to participate in the NCAA Championships in March. The league recently updated its transgender participation policy saying it would be determined on a sport-to-sport basis. 

For swimming, "transgender student-athletes will need to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport's championship selections. Starting with the 2022-23 academic year, transgender student-athletes will need documented levels at the beginning of their season and a second documentation six months after the first. They will also need documented testosterone levels four weeks before championship selections. Full implementation would begin with the 2023-24 academic year."

Earlier Tuesday, Thomas's teammates released a letter in support of the athlete's participation. 

"We want to express our full support for Lia in her transition. We value her as a person, teammate, and friend. The sentiments put forward by an anonymous member of our team are not representative of the feelings, values, and opinions of the entire Penn team, composed of 39 women with diverse backgrounds," the statement read.

"We recognize this is a matter of great controversy and are doing our best to navigate it while still focusing on doing our best in the pool and classroom," it continued.

The statement, released to ESPN, was not signed. It is unclear how many teammates supported it. 

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