World Aquatics, swimming’s governing body, has created an open category for transgender athletes at a World Cup event in Berlin.
The new category will be open for “all sex and gender identities” and will include 50m and 100m races across all strokes.“
“This pioneering pilot project highlights the organisation’s unwavering commitment to inclusivity,” a statement from World Aquatics read.
It added: “Detailed entry requirements and entry times and process information will be available soon.“
“For this inaugural event, the emphasis is on gaining further experience for future development and celebrating diversity.”
Last year, World Aquatics – formerly known as FINA – voted to restrict transgender athletes from competing in elite women’s aquatics competitions.
The gender inclusion policy – which went into effect on June 20, 2022 – dictated that male-to-female transgender athletes would only be eligible to compete in the women’s categories if they transition before the age of 12 or before they reach stage two on the puberty Tanner Scale.
The policy also says athletes who have previously used testosterone as part of female-to-male gender-affirming hormone treatment would only be eligible to compete in women’s competitions if the testosterone was used for less than a year in total, the treatment didn’t take place during puberty and testosterone levels in serum were back to pre-treatment levels.
At the time, the governing body promised to establish a new working group in order to develop open category events for athletes that do not meet the criteria for men’s or women’s categories.
World Aquatics oversees aquatic competitions in swimming, water polo, diving, artistic swimming, open water swimming and high diving.
The World Cup event in Berlin, Germany, will run from October 6 to 8 later this year.
Kai Morgenroth, vice-president of the German swimming federation – which is hosting the event – said his organization. was thrilled to be part of the inaugural initiative.
“We’re proud to host an event where swimmers can compete without barriers,” he said in a statement.
“Berlin is Germany’s hub for diversity and inclusion and therefore the perfect location for such a progressive project.”
It added: “As a society, we decided long ago that ‘separate but equal’ is dangerous and damaging. This policy does nothing to provide the kind of protections to women athletes that they have been calling for for decades — an end to sexual harassment and abuse, parity in pay and leadership, equal opportunities, and a lack of resources for women athletes.
“Instead, this only increases hostile gender norms and invasive testing that hurt all women athletes.”
The debate on transgender women in swimming, which led to the new gender inclusion policy and open category, came under a spotlight when University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, who started on the school’s men’s swimming team in 2017, eventually joined the UPenn women’s team in 2020.
At the time of her transition in 2019, the NCAA required that transgender athletes have one year of hormone replacement therapy to be cleared to compete.
In February 2022, 16 members of the University of Pennsylvania’s swim team sent a letter to the university and the Ivy League asking them to not challenge the NCAA’s new transgender athlete participation policies that would prevent Thomas and other transgender athletes to compete.
In the letter, they argued Thomas had an “unfair advantage,” and said they supported her gender transition out of the pool but not necessarily in it.
Despite the backlash, Penn Athletics and the Ivy League maintained their support for the transgender swimmer, and over 300 current and former swimmers signed their names to an open letter defending her ability to compete.
As a swimmer on the women’s team, Thomas became the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I title after winning the women’s 500-yard freestyle event in March 2022.
Advocates of banning transgender women from women’s sport have argued that transgender women have a physical advantage over cisgender women in sports.
But the mainstream science does not support that conclusion. A 2017 report in the journal Sports Medicine that reviewed several related studies found “no direct or consistent research” on trans people having an athletic advantage over their cisgender peers, and critics say the bans add to the discrimination trans people face.