WSCA Releases Position on Transgender Swimming

The World Swimming Coaches Association (WSCA) has released its position statement on transgender swimming.

It has been a year of debate with this issue within the sport, especially with the emergence of the NCAA champion Lia Thomas. Many scientists and experts have weighed in.

The WSCA’s position is that the competitive balance of women’s swimming cannot be ensured with transgender athletes, although the group maintains its commitment to find a way to include transgender swimmers in a fair way, according to the report, which could eventually lead to a Trans Division .

“For the sport of swimming, the inclusion of transgender people on the grounds of fairness cannot co-exist in the current competitive model. Swimming should choose to offer competition in which the female category is protected for reasons of competitive fairness. … The World Swimming Coaches Association (WSCA) has an unequivocal agenda for the sport of swimming to be experienced in an environment where everyone can participate in the sport and where everyone is treated with both dignity and respect,” the report reads. “However, the inclusion of transgender people into female sport cannot be balanced with fairness due to the retained differences in strength, stamina and physique that are present when comparing the average female with the average transgender female/non-binary person who was assigned male at birth (whether with or without the involvement of testosterone suppression). This is the primary factor to be considered in an endeavor to balance fairness with inclusion.”

The WSCA said a possible solution is to create a Trans Division.

“Trans females cannot compete fairly with biological females; however, providing them with the competition that is predominantly that of competing against biological males becomes unfair to the Trans female. It is the exact mirror image for the Trans Male. He has the same biological disadvantage that the trans female has as an advantage. Yet forcing him onto a female’s division would in many cases (and in the least) violate our doping rules,” the report stated. “One such solution is to create a Trans Division. The Trans Females will race each other. The Trans Males will race each other. There is an argument that the Trans Males have been completely lost in this debate because they are uncompetitive in our current structure. This would also allow those of indeterminate gender to be factored into such a solution.”

The report goes on to discuss the differences in the Special Olympics, Invictus Games and Paralympics, which all rely on biological factors.

“When the Paralympics started, it was called the Wheelchair Games. It was small. There were veterans’ and civilians’ divisions that have now disappeared. Now, classifications are based purely on biological factors… Thanks to the Kennedy Family, the Special Olympics was born. This group initially served those with intellectual development disabilities, and, primarily at that time, those with Downs Syndrome. It recognized the biological differences between children on a ‘regular’ intellectual development curve and those with developmental disabilities. … It seems that the British Royal Family’s interest in wounded warriors greatly aided the development of the Paralympics. In recent times, the Paralympics also serves those who have significant trauma, congenital disabilities, cancer surgeries, and the like within their lives. The biological difference between those with their legs blown off in war and someone running on two good legs is quite apparent. The Invictus Games has become another event on the calendar which supports such differences within the makeup of the athlete population.”

WSCA Summary Considerations for the Future

1. Fairness is paramount to all sports, including the sport of swimming;

2. The sport of swimming is gender affected and that manifests itself through the physical differences between males and females;

3. The sport of swimming rewards greater strength, stamina, and/or physique;

4. Gender categories within the sport of swimming exist to provide fairness and opportunity in competition;

5. Through a re-categorization process, the sport of swimming should offer an alternative competitive model which would ensure inclusion and fairness.

• Read the full report here

WSCA’s Key Pillars

1. WSCA is committed to the inclusion of all people in competitive swimming. The introduction of a new and different model within the competitive realms of our sport will offer an alternative option to meet the needs of all people;

2. Categorization through birth sex remains to be the most useful and functional division relative to sporting performance. This categorization acknowledges the broad range of significant performance differences between the sexes. Hence, the sport of swimming should retain traditional gender categorization – in association with age and, where appropriate, disability – whilst finding a model of inclusion for transgender athletes;

3. Evidence indicates that it is fair for transgender people to be included in the sport of swimming either within a Male category and/or as athletes racing within a Male category but additionally entered within an ‘Open’ category. This assumes that the transgender person will often be using testosterone supplementation, for which a Therapeutic Use Exemption (TUE) will always be required under anti-doping rules that must apply equally to all athletes in competitive swimming, regardless of category;

4. Competitive fairness cannot be reconciled with self-identification into the female category in a gender-affected sport such as swimming. The average differences in strength, stamina, and physique between the sexes are significant. Transgender females are, on average, likely to retain the physical advantages listed above even if testosterone suppression is utilized;

5. Categorization by sex is lawful, and hence the requirement to request information relating to birth sex is appropriate. No individual is compelled to provide any information to a sports organization. However, failure to provide such information should mean that that person would not be able to compete in the category of their choice. The sport of swimming should therefore provide options for those people who prefer not to advise of their sex or gender. This would also be fair to and comply with the rules related to anti-doping officers collecting samples, which requires observation and an accompanying obligation to grant permission for any athlete wishing to compete in events which are subject to the WADA Code.