The most decorated Olympian of all time is calling for a "level playing field" in light of a transgender swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania breaking records.
American Michael Phelps, the winner of 28 Olympic medals including 23 golds, made the comments during an interview with CNN's Christiane Amanpour when asked about Penn's Lia Thomas, a biological male who identifies as a female and has the fastest 200-yard and 500-yard freestyles among any female college swimmer this year. Thomas competed on the men's team for three years before switching to the women's team.
Reacting to ongoing debate over trans college athlete Lia Thomas competing on the women’s swimming team, “it’s very complicated,” says @MichaelPhelps. “We all should feel comfortable with who we are in our own skin. But I think sports should be played on an even playing field.” pic.twitter.com/brsq7t2vJW— Christiane Amanpour (@amanpour) January 13, 2022
In December, Thomas broke pool, meet and program records at the Akron Zippy Invitational. Thomas is on pace to challenge multiple titles at the NCAA Championships March 16-19 at Georgia Tech.
"It has to be a level playing field – I think that's something that we all need," Phelps said. "Because that's what sports are. I don't know where this is going to go. I don't know what's going to happen. I believe that we all should feel comfortable with who we are in our own skin. But I think sports should all be played on an even playing field.
"... It's hard. … It's very complicated, and this is my sport," he added. "This has been my sport my whole entire career, and honestly, the one thing I would love is everybody to be able to compete on an even playing field."
Although Thomas followed NCAA rules for transgender athletes, many critics say the requirements are too lenient. The NCAA requires male-to-female athletes to undergo one year of testosterone suppression treatment but does not set a benchmark.
The American Swimming Coaches Association (ASCA) last week released a statement urging the NCAA and "all governing bodies" to "work quickly to update their policies and rules to maintain fair competition in the women's category of swimming."
"The current NCAA policy regarding when transgender females can compete in the women's category can be unfair to cisgender females and needs to be reviewed and changed in a transparent manner," ASCA said. "... We strongly reject the criticism of the athletes and coaches who are merely following the rules."
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Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Joe Scarnici/Stringer
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.