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by Debbie Hayton
Wednesday, 26
July 2023
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07:00

Swimming may have found an answer to the trans question

World Aquatics's new open category is a welcome development
by Debbie Hayton
Lia Thomas (L) won gold at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships last year. Credit: Getty

World Aquatics has just announced plans to set up an open category for elite swimmers, possibly as early as this year. This welcome and progressive development fosters both inclusion and the integrity of women’s swimming.

Last year FINA — as the organisation was then known — barred transgender swimmers from competing in women’s elite races and setting women’s world records. If, that is, they had gone through male puberty. That would certainly have disqualified Lia Thomas, a college swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania. In 2021, Thomas provoked widespread and justifiable outrage after making the switch from male to female competition, leaving women to compete for second place.


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But it should be noted that Thomas was not banned from swimming. FINA was clear about that in its 2022 policy: “male-to-female transgender athletes (transgender women) remain eligible for, and are welcome to compete in, the men’s category whether or not they are suppressing their endogenous androgens.”

The new open category should remove any confusion, genuine or contrived. World Aquatics President Husain Al-Musallam explained that “nobody should be excluded from our competitions.” Open competition is just that, so there should be no barrier for trans women or people of either sex who identify as non-binary. A separate female category then provides fair competition for women.

Unfortunately, Al-Musallam did not go into detail regarding eligibility for the female category. Last year’s FINA policy included male swimmers “if they can establish to FINA’s comfortable satisfaction that they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 or before age 12, whichever is later.”

In my view, that was a grave error. Firstly, sex differences do not start at puberty; and secondly, it puts pre-pubescent boys at potential risk of harm from repressive regimes that care more about winning medals than the lives of their athletes. 

Swim England’s new “open and female” policy is much better. From September, “only athletes who have declared a birth sex of female will compete in the ‘female’ category.” This will apply for all events licensed by Swim England, where times are submitted to official rankings or talent pathway competitions. Pressure needs to be placed on the world governing body to get on board with that language.

While “open and female” categories protect women’s sport, they do leave men without a competition to call their own. That said, male swimmers are unlikely to give up any records or medals in swimming, certainly at the elite level governed by World Aquatics. It’s not inconceivable that a trans woman or a non-binary swimmer — of the male sex — could win races in the open category. But whatever labels they might claim, they cannot identify out of their sex.

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Arkadian X
Arkadian X
1 month ago

Indeed, what is so difficult in stating that only those who are born female may take part in female competitions? That seems the easiest and most obvious thing to do.

John Murray
John Murray
1 month ago

“they do leave men without a competition to call their own”
Eh. The open category is just the men’s category given a different name as a sop to current year nonsense. In most sports that aren’t combat sports there was never a rule that said a woman couldn’t compete against men, it’s just that it did not happen very often for stark staringly obvious reasons to anyone with common sense.

Carol Forshaw
Carol Forshaw
1 month ago
Reply to  John Murray

Since when did common sense come into this discussion?

William Simonds
William Simonds
1 month ago

I hate to state the obvious, but this is not a solution. It still maintains a “women only” competition in the elite category, and the Lia Thomases of the world are not going to shrug their broad, muscular shoulders and go quietly to the “open” category and not bring law suit after law suit to get into the “women’s elite” category. Those courts that are liberal will declare, without hesitation, that if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, it is a duck. The women’s elite category still bars significant elements of transgender competition, therefore it is discrimination.
The irony is, of course, that women’s sports were founded on the premise that there is a true, measurable, demonstrable disparity between the physical capabilities of women and men. Women needed “a competition of their own” for the very reason that, physically, they cannot compete successfully against men. The basis of women only sports is, was, and ever should be, physical. Period. End of discussion. That someone who feels like, identifies as, or electively becomes a woman any time after the birth gender is determined as male can compete in women’s sports violates the fundamental basis for having women’s sports as a separate category in the first place.
Women’s sports is a place where physical differences are effectively dealt with. It has nothing to do with gender per se…only that birth gender tends to be expressed in a differing physiology. And it should be that differing physiology, not the currently identified gender, that determines who can and cannot participate.

Terry M
Terry M
1 month ago

…if it walks like a duck, swims like a duck, and quacks like a duck, but has a Y-chromosome, it is a drake

Perry de Havilland
Perry de Havilland
1 month ago

Any solution that doesn’t allow mediocre men to beat up athletic women (sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally) is not going to be accepted by the trans lobby.
I’m old enough to remember when men trying to physically impose themselves on a woman or force their ways into a female only space were arrested & often jailed, but hey, I suppose I’m a dinosaur 😀

Tom Graham
Tom Graham
1 month ago

You missed out “and ogle them in the changing rooms”.

Neither does having an open category compel the rest of us to validate the fetishes and delusions of porn-addled men.

They won’t go for this at all.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 month ago

One thing to remember is that almost the entire activist transgender movement is motivated by pure unadulterated lust, envy and hatred of women. Much like the women’s clothing its proponents dress themselves up in, the language of care, compassion, and kindness is just a disguise they don to get physically closer to women as well as demand special privileges for themselves.
It’s not just about entering sporting competitions, which is why concessions like creating a separate trans category won’t work. The entire purpose of this is to be around women in a deeply personal and intimate way. The reason this is all permitted is because it gels neatly with globalist ambitions to ‘flatten’ the West by removing or distorting all its reference points: culture, history, science, and gender-relations so that it can be replaced by a system more conducive to scientific management of populations who learn to rely on big government and corporations to order their lives.

Champagne Socialist
Champagne Socialist
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

And how did you become such an expert on the motivations of transgender people?

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 month ago

In their own words:

https://terfisaslur.com/

Ralph Hanke
Ralph Hanke
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

There is certain violent rage that strikes me as quite male In the posts on site you suggested.

Tom Scott
Tom Scott
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

These items are horrendous!

There are clearly some serious mental issues portrayed here which require legal interventions.

William Shaw
William Shaw
1 month ago
Reply to  Julian Farrows

Total rubbish.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 month ago
Reply to  William Shaw

Which part?

Jeremy Bray
Jeremy Bray
1 month ago

Go Swim England!

Daria Angelova
Daria Angelova
1 month ago

A new open category seems like a reasonable solution, though in practice it’s just a second category for males, who will inevitably dominate it. There’s still no real solution for trans-identifying female swimmers who want to go through the hormone treatment, but of course nobody really cares about them anyway.

William Shaw
William Shaw
1 month ago
Reply to  Daria Angelova

You make a good point.
If we want to continue down the path of discrimination then it’s not an open category that’s needed, it’s a category that is exclusively for trans-men and another that is exclusively for trans women. Both categories would require careful definition of who can and who cannot compete.
Alternatively every event and every sport could be opened up for anyone and everyone regardless of what they are, what they call themselves, or what they want to be. The best would win on pure merit and nothing else.

Last edited 1 month ago by William Shaw
Daria Angelova
Daria Angelova
1 month ago
Reply to  William Shaw

I guess the problem is that once you acknowledge the importance of biology, you’d have to keep on splitting the categories to the point where it gets ridiculous. Is it really fair for instance to have trans people who underwent hormonal treatment competing in the same category as the trans people who don’t take hormones? What happens to athletes who identify as non-binary, do they get their own category? Do we then split that category into “non-binary people of female sex” and “non-binary people of male sex”?
It’s just far easier to create a broad category that’s based on identity only, and pretend that sex doesn’t matter.

UnHerd Reader
UnHerd Reader
1 month ago
Reply to  Daria Angelova

You reveal the absolute nonsense of “non-binary” by having to de facto divide it into non-binary female and non-binary male. This proves that there is no such thing as non-binary, e.g. a person who is neither male or female or both male or female. Everyone is either male or female, even people who tragically have disorders of sexual development.
We need to get the language back to sex (biological) and sex role stereotypes (when referring to personality and behavioral traits assumed to be related to biological sex) and use the word gender as a grammatical term. The word gender just confuses most people and is used to mean both sex and stereotypes.

Tom Scott
Tom Scott
1 month ago
Reply to  Daria Angelova

Surely there is a difference between those who ‘want or intend to go through the hormone treatment,’ and those who actually have done?

You make it sound as if there was a long queue of aspiring athletes who are being held back from realising their dreams, not those who want to win unfairly.

William Shaw
William Shaw
1 month ago

“only athletes who have declared a birth sex of female will compete in the ‘female’ category.”
So if Caster Semenya was a swimmer they could compete in the female competition even though they are XY?

William Shaw
William Shaw
1 month ago
Reply to  William Shaw

Downvoted for pointing out a loophole in the proposed solution?
Seriously people, if you want a good solution you have to close all the loopholes.

Julian Farrows
Julian Farrows
1 month ago
Reply to  William Shaw

You’re being disingenuous 🙂

Chris Amies
Chris Amies
1 month ago

Why not have weight categories the way they do in boxing? An 80kg man would probably be faster than a 50kg woman, but a 50kg man would be at less of an advantage.