World Aquatics, the governing body of swimming, diving, and water-based sports, has scuttled plans to hold “open” category races intended for transgender athletes after its attempt to hold such events at the World Cup earlier this month failed due to a lack of entries.
World Aquatics had marketed the new category as a “pioneering pilot project” that would allow transgender swimmers — particularly transgender females, at whom the policy was aimed — to compete without requiring them to compete as their assigned sex at birth.
Last year, the governing body banned transgender swimmers from competing in women’s events. That decision was based on research showing that athletes who had undergone male puberty before transitioning retained a significant advantage over female swimmers even after reducing their testosterone levels through medication.
World Aquatics, at the time known as FINA, was also influenced by complaints about transgender participation following the success of transgender American collegiate swimmer Lia Thomas, who won an NCAA national college title after transitioning.
Following its imposition of the ban, World Aquatics proposed holding an “open” category in the 50m and 100m races across all strokes, in addition to men’s and women’s competitions.
Those open races, the first of which were to kick off during the World Cup, held last week in Berlin, Germany, were intended to demonstrate the sport’s commitment to “inclusion.”
But a lack of entries led the organization to announce that the “open” category races would not be held this year.
Still, World Aquatics appears to remain committed to the idea of holding “open” races in the future, saying its open category working group will continue to examine further options for transgender athletes.
“Even if there is no current demand at the elite level, the working group is planning to look at the possibility of including open category races at Masters events [for swimmers 35 and older] in the future,” World Aquatics said in a statement, according to the Canadian Broadcasting Company.
Other major sports bodies, including World Athletics, the governing body of track-and-field events and UCI, the governing body in cycling, have also imposed bans on transgender athletes competing in female-designated events.
But neither has yet suggested creating a third “open” category open to transgender competitors. Additionally, the small number of transgender competitors at the elite sporting level would likely make finding similarly-situated transgender competitors difficult.
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