The governing body for international water sports will set up an “open category” to allow transgender athletes to compete in swimming, while protecting fairness in the women’s division.
World Aquatics president Husain Al-Musallam announced the plans Tuesday at the World Aquatics Congress in Fukuoka, Japan.
“This is a very complex topic,” Al-Musallam said, according to the AP. “But I am delighted to tell you today that we are now making plans for the first trial of an open category, and we hope to be able to confirm all the details soon. Our sport must be open to everybody.”
Former NCAA All-American swimmer Riley Gaines, who has become one of the most prominent advocates for fairness in women’s sports, has supported a “third category” since tying with a trans-identifying biological male, Lia Thomas, at the 2022 NCAA Women’s Championships.
“I by no means think anyone, regardless of gender identity, race, sex or anything should be banned from playing sports,” Gaines said, according to The Spectrum. “It’s a common misconception that people think they’re banning trans athletes. I don’t want anyone to be banned from sports because I truly believe sports are foundational.
“In an ideal world, I think a third category is a way to ensure everyone an athletic opportunity, everyone chances for success and everyone safety or privacy in their locker rooms.”
Paula Scanlan, who competed on the same team as Thomas, agrees that biological males who transition should not compete against women, but believes they should compete in the men’s category instead of a separate, third one.
“I think there should be women’s sports, meaning people who are born female, and there should be another category formerly known as the men’s team called open,” Scanlan said in an interview with Matt Walsh. “Why don’t we let everyone compete with the men?
“People have been talking about making this new non-binary or trans category and that’s just another group where men are always going to win.”
Recent evidence supports Scanlan’s concern.
The Boston Marathon implemented a nonbinary division this year, and used the same qualifying standards as the women’s division. The winner of the category was a biological male who beat the rest of the runners by 10 minutes, according to Sex Matters.
The New York City Marathon’s 2022 non-binary winner and runner-up were both males, but their times would not have been competitive in the men’s categories.
Water Aquatics implemented a gender policy in 2022, banning transgender athletes from women’s events unless they transitioned before the age of 12.
An “open competition” category was proposed when that policy was implemented, and the new division could open up later this year, according to Al-Musallam.