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17 Dec, 2021 12:33

‘Everybody is scared’: Parents ‘plead to authorities’ over transgender US swimmer

‘Everybody is scared’: Parents ‘plead to authorities’ over transgender US swimmer

The parents of athletes at a US university where a transgender swimmer has smashed records have reportedly demanded rule changes, warning that the "integrity of women's sports" is at stake after the former man dominated the pool.

In her debut season as a member of the women’s team at the University of Pennsylvania, Lia Thomas – who was part of the institution's men's team for three years before transitioning – beat a female-born teammate by 38 seconds at a race in Ohio earlier this month.

Formerly known as Will, Thomas is said to have bragged about the ease with which she has been securing seemingly spectacular victories.

That has led to questions about whether testosterone suppression can overcome the advantage athletes who pass through puberty as men hold – including outrage from parents of some students at the university.

In a ruling questioned by some scientific papers, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) laws allow trans women to compete once they have completed a year of testosterone suppression treatment.

Thomas is said to have had two-and-a-half years of ongoing hormone replacement therapy, but the parents of around 10 swimmers have reportedly sent a letter to the NCAA, the Ivy League and the university demanding rule changes.

"The precedent being set – one in which women do not have a protected and equitable space to compete – is a direct threat to female athletes in every sport," the concerned group wrote, according to MailOnline.

"What are the boundaries? How is this in line with the NCAA's commitment to providing a fair environment for student-athletes?

"It is the responsibility of the NCAA to address the matter with an official statement.

"As the governing body, it is unfair and irresponsible to leave the onus on Lia, Lia's teammates, Lia's coaches, UPenn athletics and the Ivy League.

"And it is unfair and irresponsible to Lia to allow the media to dictate the narrative without the participation of the NCAA."

Following on from a number of athletes who initially commented on condition of anonymity, a parent who reputedly asked not to be identified for fear of repercussions is said to have told the outlet: "The swimmers have mixed feelings.

"Many of them want to speak up but they don't because they believe they'll be ostracized.

"Everybody is scared. Parents are also scared that the kids will be harmed. We are paying $80,000 for this school. Their life will be impacted. At stake here is the integrity of women's sports."

The university's response was described by the report as 'terse' and is said to have encouraged student-athletes "to utilize the robust resources available to them at Penn" and spoken about a need to "help our community navigate Lia's success".

Bosses then reportedly provided links to "counseling and psychological services, the LGBT Center, Restorative Practices and our Center for Student-Athlete Success staff."

The rules, rather than the university or Thomas, are said to be the source of frustration for the parents. "I think that transgender people have a right to compete but they need to have their own league," one mother said.

"Being fair to one group of people shouldn't take rights away from another group, and that's what's happening here.

"The NCAA obviously didn't think much about the rules they set. It's not fair to the women on the team and it's not fair to Lia as well.

"She went through transition and I admire her bravery. But the records she sets now are not valued records, female records."

Thomas is said to have been seconds away from breaking female records in her swimming career as a man.

"Our swimmers are already impacted by this situation," revealed one parent. "My daughter is unable to focus.

"We are trying to give the swimmers a break with interims now. But I'm a fighter by nature and I feel uncomfortable being silent.

"If everyone is silent, nothing is going to change. We're giving the girls time for the midterms. Then we need to speak up as soon as possible."

Some of the swimmers are said to have been upset by Thomas's alleged arrogant attitude. She will also reportedly be automatically entered for a national championship meet in Atlanta in March 2022.

Issues around rules for transgender athletes and their rights have been increasingly controversial in recent months.

Several states have put forward bills aimed at outlawing transgender athletes from competing in female sports, achieving mixed success amid fierce rows over the need for new legislation, including protests at the Senate.