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4 Feb, 2022 12:02

Teammates demand ban for dominant trans swimmer

The record breaker's colleagues support her transition but not her participation in women's competition
Teammates demand ban for dominant trans swimmer

Sixteen teammates of transgender swimmer Lia Thomas wrote a letter to the University of Pennsylvania asking the school not to take legal action against recent National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) policy changes while insisting Thomas has an "unfair advantage" in women's events.

The members of the UPenn team sent the letter to the college and Ivy League officials on Thursday, and stressed that though they support Thomas in her life decisions, she should not be allowed to continue her record-breaking run in events such as next month's NCAA championships.

"We fully support Lia Thomas in her decision to affirm her gender identity and to transition from a man to a woman. Lia has every right to live her life authentically," began the letter, which has been obtained by the Washington Post.

"However, we also recognize that when it comes to sports competition, that the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone’s gender identity.

"Biologically, Lia holds an unfair advantage over [her] competition in the women’s category, as evidenced by her rankings that have bounced from #462 as a male to #1 as a female," the teammates claimed.

"If she were to be eligible to compete against us, she could now break Penn, Ivy, and NCAA Women’s Swimming records; feats she could never have done as a male athlete."

Thomas previously campaigned for UPenn's men's team for three seasons prior to undergoing hormone replacement therapy.

On the other side of the pandemic, she broke records in two separate meets this season which caused controversy and sparked debate as per the fairness of transgender athlete participation in events for the sex they have transitioned to across college sports.

In reaction to this, the NCAA passed responsibility on to the individual national governing bodies of each sport to determine participation for transgender athletes and how testosterone levels are documented prior to the beginning of their respective seasons.

On Tuesday, USA Swimming announced it had changed its policy on transgender athletes policy with immediate effect. Moving forward, a three-person panel made up of independent medical experts is to determine whether a swimmer boasts a competitive advantage as a result of her previous physical development as a male, and testosterone in a swimmer’s blood should not exceed 5 nmol/L for a continuous period of at least 36 months.

In their letter, Thomas' sixteen teammates asked UPenn not to challenge this through legal action against USA Swimming, which could prevent Thomas from taking part in future events but perhaps not the NCAA Championships from March 16-19 as the new policy will be gradually phased in through three stages.

The girls remained anonymous in the letter, which was sent by 1984 Olympic swimming gold medalist and lawyer Nancy Hogshead-Makar, who is also the chief executive of women's sports advocacy organization Champion Women. 

In a telephone interview with the Washington Post, Hogshead-Makar said that the letter was sent on their behalf to evade retaliation as they have been told "we would be removed from the team or that we would never get a job offer" for speaking out against Thomas swimming in women’s competitions.

Additionally, Hogshead-Makar thinks the NCAA was wise to update the rules.

"It turns out that it was only based on a hypothesis and that it was just not true," she said of previous policy. "So now there’s been a lot more science on it, more research on it, and it shows that in many cases that ... you cannot roll back [male puberty]; you can’t take any medication to overcome what male puberty gives you.

"When it became clear, all this new science was coming through, transgender advocates were saying: ‘Oh, but it’s never going to happen. Nobody’s ever going to come and break women’s records. ... You’re not going to see that at the Olympics or at nationals.’ And then Lia came along. It just shows the need to update the NCAA rule," Hogshead-Makar added.

A UPenn parent claimed to the Washington Post that only "two or three" girls, one of whom is her daughter, were behind the letter but added that a colleague "who is a senior" approached a UPenn coach about Thomas' participation and was more or less told to "get over it".

"In a subsequent conversation with my daughter, she expressed how she’s really unhappy with the situation, she thinks it’s wrong, and so on, but she thinks that since we’re at this point of the season already, she thinks at this point Lia should just be able to finish out the season. That’s another perspective," the parent explained.

Thomas found support from some teammates, though, who sent a statement out after an unidentified UPenn swimmer said to Fox News that Thomas has a "monumental" advantage over the rest of them.  

"We want to express our full support for Lia in her transition," the swimmers said, as reported by ESPN. "We value her as a person, teammate, and friend.

"The sentiments put forward by an anonymous member of our team are not representative of the feelings, values, and opinions of the entire Penn team, composed of 39 women with diverse backgrounds," the statement declared.