A panel of three medical experts will determine whether a transgender swimmer has an unfair advantage over other female competitors before they are accepted at the elite level, according to a new policy from USA Swimming. The panel will consider "prior physical development of the athlete as a male … to mitigate the advantages associated with male puberty and physiology," the governing body says, per the BBC. It acknowledges "a competitive difference in the male and female categories," noting statistical data "shows 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," per the Washington Post.
The eligibility criteria, announced Tuesday and effective immediately, also requires a testosterone level of less than 5 nanomoles per liter of blood continuously for at least three years, per the Post. Between 0.3 and 2.4 nmol/L is considered "normal" for females, writes Dr. Daniel Kelly of Sheffield Hallam University, who studies the role of testosterone in disease, though he notes "these ranges are often not agreed on by experts from different societies, countries or laboratories." At the non-elite level, transgender swimmers can change their competition category to compete "in a manner that is consistent with their gender identity and expression," according to USA Swimming. The new policy, however, will apply to swimmers hoping to set US records.
The policy comes in response to new NCAA protocol stating transgender athletes' participation will be determined by the policy set by each sport's national governing body, or in lieu of that, the policy set by the international governing body, per the Post. USA Swimming says it acted as FINA had reevaluated the expected timeline for its policy. Among those affected is Lia Thomas, who's been breaking records as a member of the University of Pennsylvania's women's swim team. On Tuesday, her teammates released a statement "to express our full support for Lia in her transition" after critical comments to the media by anonymous swimmers, which do not reflect "the feelings, values, and opinions of the entire Penn team," per ESPN. (Read more LGBTQ stories.)