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USA Swimming Changes Rules for Trans Athletes, 'Acknowledges' That Men Have an Advantage

Michael Foust | CrosswalkHeadlines Contributor | Published: Feb 03, 2022
USA Swimming Changes Rules for Trans Athletes, 'Acknowledges' That Men Have an Advantage

USA Swimming Changes Rules for Trans Athletes, 'Acknowledges' That Men Have an Advantage

Addressing a growing controversy within its sport, the governing body for American competitive swimming released new rules on Wednesday that place major new restrictions on male-to-female transgender athletes due to what the organization calls “competitive” advantages for male swimmers.

The new rules by USA Swimming were released nearly two weeks after the NCAA also tightened its rules for transgender athletes. The NCAA said its new rules would reflect those of the national governing body, which is USA Swimming.

The controversy was ignited by the success of Penn’s Lia Thomas, who swam on the men’s team for three years before swimming on the women’s team this season. Thomas has broken multiple records and was on pace to challenge for titles in several events at the NCAA Championships March 16-19 at Georgia Tech. It is unknown, though, whether Thomas will be eligible under the new rules.

Under the new rules by USA Swimming, a transgender woman must have a testosterone level of “less than 5 nmol/L” continuously for at least three years. Additionally, a three-person panel comprised of independent medical experts will determine if the transgender athlete has a “competitive advantage” over biological women based on “prior physical development of the athlete as a male.”

“USA Swimming has and will continue to champion gender equity and the inclusivity of all cisgender and transgender women and their rights to participate in sport, while also fervently supporting competitive equity at elite levels of competition,” a USA Swimming statement said.

“The development of the elite policy, therefore, acknowledges a competitive difference in the male and female categories and the disadvantages this presents in elite head-to-head competition,” the statement said.

To bolster its argument, USA Swimming noted that “the top-ranked female in 2021, on average, would be ranked 536th across all short course yards (25 yards) male events in the country” and “326th across all long course meters (50 meters) male events in the country.”

The new policy applies only to elite competitions.

Meanwhile, a group consisting of 16 Penn swimmers and divers and their families released an open letter Thursday, asking the university and the Ivy League to abide by the new USA Swimming rules, according to

“Lia’s inclusion with unfair biological advantages means that we have lost competitive opportunities,” the letter reads. “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.”


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Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Trevor Williams

Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist PressChristianity TodayThe Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.

USA Swimming Changes Rules for Trans Athletes, 'Acknowledges' That Men Have an Advantage