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The drama and emotions are building as the collegiate swimming world inches closer to the Ivy League Championships where transgender swimmer Lia Thomas is expected to dominate the 200 & 500 freestyle competition. It is those two races that Thomas has already qualified for the NCAA Championships in March to be held in Atlanta.
Thomas, who spent three seasons at the University of Pennsylvania as a male swimmer, still holds the fastest female 200 & 500 freestyle times in the nation and appears set to walk out of Atlanta with two national championships.
Thursday, members of the Penn women’s swim team called on the school to “not engage in litigation” that would alter the NCAA’s new transgender athlete policies, which were updated in January when the NCAA’s Board of Directors said collegiate divisions should defer transgender policies to national sport governing boards. That decision forced USA Swimming to step up and create its own new policies to address Thomas’ rise to prominence.
In response, Tuesday, USA Swimming updated its transgender policy to state that transgender women competing in the Female competition category would have to provide evidence to a three-person panel that “prior development of the athlete as a male…does not give the athlete a competitive advantage over the athlete’s cisgender female competitors.”
The new USAS transgender policy also includes a testosterone level rule requiring athletes to prove their “serum has been less than 5 nmol/L continuously for a period of at least 36 months before the date of application.”
Three-time Olympic champion Nancy Hogshead-Makar, who is representing a group of parents and athletes who are looking for a fair playing field, writes in the letter that the group hopes “swimming will find a place for Lia to compete,” but notes that “sport is competitive by definition, and Lia’s wins, records, and honors should not come at our expense, the women who have worked their entire lives to earn a spot on the Penn Women’s Swimming Team.”
While Hogshead-Makar and the Penn swimmers seem to believe USA Swimming’s policy could prevent Thomas from competing in the Ivy League and NCAA Championships. Christiana Holcomb, who serves as legal counsel for the Alliance Defending Freedom, doesn’t see USA Swimming’s new policy as being far-reaching enough.
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“Suppressing testosterone is hardly a remedy for fairness. Multiple studies demonstrate that no amount of testosterone suppression can undo a male’s physical advantages over females,” Holcomb told OutKick in a written statement. “Men still retain their bigger hearts and lungs, denser bones, stronger muscles, and larger skeletal structures.
“Furthermore, USA Swimming’s new policy is a slap in the face to female swimmers at the non-elite levels and threatens their placement and advancement opportunities. No girl should be forced to compete against a male athlete.”
As things stand right now, the Penn women’s team is fractured with several swimmers releasing their own letter of support for Thomas, while Hogshead-Makar’s group is fighting Penn and the Ivy League over Thomas taking up a team roster spot at the Ivy Championships Feb. 16-19.
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Roger Brooks, who serves as senior counsel on Title IX issue for the Alliance Defending Freedom, told OutKick in January that universities could pay the price in court for not stopping Thomas.
“I do think colleges like the University of Pennsylvania that are letting this happen are violating Title IX and they should be held accountable and I do think there are good arguments that the NCAA itself is essentially an agent of its member colleges and is violating Title IX,” Brooks said. “The law is not being complied with and we hope that in due course we’ll be able to correct that.”
Here’s the full letter sent to Penn and the Ivy League by female Penn swimmers as obtained by Swimming World:
We, 16 members of the Penn Women’s Swimming Team and our family members, thank USA Swimming, for listening to our request to prioritize fairness for biological women in our elite competitions. We ask that Penn and the Ivy League support us as biological women, and not engage in legal action with the NCAA to challenge these new Athlete Inclusion Policies.
Tuesday, USA Swimming released new “Athlete Inclusion Procedures” shortly after the NCAA acknowledged that each sport should determine how fairness and inclusion were to be accomplished. In particular, we appreciate USAS Guideline’s guiding purpose, to ensure that transgender women competing in the Female competition category “do not have an unfair advantage over their cisgender Female competitors in Elite Events.” (USAS, page 42, #6 (a))
We fully support Lia Thomas in her decision to affirm her gender identity and to transition from a man to a woman. Lia has every right to live her life authentically.
However, we also recognize that when it comes to sports competition, that the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone’s gender identity. Biologically, Lia holds an unfair advantage over competition in the women’s category, as evidenced by her rankings that have bounced from #462 as a male to #1 as a female. If she were to be eligible to compete against us, she could now break Penn, Ivy, and NCAA Women’s Swimming records; feats she could never have done as a male athlete.
The Penn Women’s Swimming Team has over 40 women, but only 18 of us are chosen to compete in the end-of-year culmination of our work: the Ivy Championships. Most important to us is that Lia’s inclusion with unfair biological advantages means that we have lost competitive opportunities. Some of us have lost records. But even those that swim different events than Lia or were not in contention to make the Ivy Championships, we stand by our teammates who have lost out. It has often felt like Penn, our school, our league, and the NCAA did not support us.
We have dedicated our lives to swimming. Most of us started the same time Lia did, as pre-teens. We have trained up to 20 hours a week, swimming miles, running and lifting weights. To be sidelined or beaten by someone competing with the strength, height, and lung capacity advantages that can only come with male puberty has been exceedingly difficult.
We have been told that if we spoke out against her inclusion into women’s competitions, that we would be removed from the team or that we would never get a job offer. When media have tried to reach out to us, these journalists have been told that the coaches and athletes were prohibited from talking to them. We support Lia’s mental health, and we ask Penn and the Ivy League to support ours as well.
We hope that sport will adapt; that swimming will find a place for Lia to compete. Lia is always welcome to train with us; the men’s and women’s swimming teams have always trained together with the same head coach.
However, sport is competitive by definition, and Lia’s wins, records, and honors should not come at our expense, the women who have worked their entire lives to earn a spot on the Penn Women’s Swimming Team.
We just celebrated National Girls and Women in Sports Day. In honor of the Title IX pioneers who have worked so hard for women to have opportunities in sports and for educational opportunities for all women, we ask the University of Pennsylvania recognize the importance of providing fair competition and safe spaces for its biological female athletes. Further, we ask that Penn and the Ivy League refrain from suing the NCAA, or try to interfere with or weaken these new Athlete Inclusion Policies, that they be allowed to stand, so that we are able to finish our swimming season with distinction and pride.
4 CommentsLeave a Reply
This is ridiculous. He’s a dude. He shouldn’t be allowed to take away the opportunity for a women to compete and win.
TFC. Unreal that anyone gives this guy any credibility.
I’m glad they stepped up, good for them.
Leave it to a man to show the ladies how it’s done…..Lmao