International swimming body Fina has voted to restrict transgender athletes from participating in women's events if they have experienced any part of male puberty.
The decision came after a report from the federation's scientific panel found that trans women retained an advantage over cisgender female competitors even after reducing testosterone in their bodies.
Under the new 34-page policy, female-to-male transgender athletes would be allowed to compete in the women's category if they "have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 [the start of physical development]. They must also have completed their transition by age 12 to compete.
“This is not saying that people are encouraged to transition by the age of 12. It’s what the scientists are saying, that if you transition after the start of puberty, you have an advantage, which is unfair,” Fina spokesperson James Pearce told the Associated Press.
“They’re not saying everyone should transition by age 11, that’s ridiculous. You can’t transition by that age in most countries and hopefully you wouldn’t be encouraged to. Basically, what they’re saying is that it is not feasible for people who have transitioned to compete without having an advantage.”
The minimum age for starting gender transition hormone treatment is at age 14, with surgeries at 15 or 16, according to the World Professional Association for Transgender Health.
In addition to the restriction, Fina promised to create an "open" category where trans women can compete.
This ban immediately impacts swimmer Lia Thomas, a transgender swimmer who began in the sport as a male competitor and earlier in the year won an NCAA national college title.
Thomas met NCAA standards for competing after undergoing testosterone suppression therapy for more than two years. The new decision means that she will no longer be able to compete in the women's category at the Paris Olympics.
Former swimmers Sharron Davies and Karen Pickering showed their support for the decision on Twitter.
I can’t tell you how proud I am of my sport @fina & @fina_president for doing the science, asking the athletes/coaches and standing up for fair sport for females. Swimming will always welcome everyone no matter how you identify but fairness is the cornerstone of sport https://t.co/1IaMkIFOkX— Sharron Davies MBE (@sharrond62) June 19, 2022
The FINA transgender policy has been passed by a majority vote by commission members. Based on science and fairness, no male who has gone through puberty will be eligible to compete in women’s FINA events or break a Women’s FINA World Record— Karen Pickering MBE (@Karen_Pickering) June 19, 2022
Retired Olympian and media personality Caitlyn Jenner called the policy "fair."
It worked! I took a lot of heat - but what’s fair is fair! If you go through male puberty you should not be able to take medals away from females. Period. https://t.co/qqZq7gnt6g— Caitlyn Jenner (@Caitlyn_Jenner) June 19, 2022
In November 2021, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) gave recommendations on transgender athletes, which urged bodies to provide evidence proving there is a performance advantage.
Aside from swimming, World Rugby is the only other Olympic governing body banning trans women to compete in women's categories.