By David “Dirk” Smith, M.Sc., SDL (He/Him)
As the USA grips with the news of the US Supreme Court overturning Roe v Wade as religious conservatism imposes its will by stripping the constitutional rights of millions of American citizens away. The International Swimming Federation (FINA) has announced a new slew of restrictions and testing on female swimmers under the thinly veiled guise of “protecting women’s sports.”
Under the FINA rules, transgender women are prohibited from competing in any FINA competition unless they have begun hormone replacement therapy to suppress testosterone production before the onset of puberty or by the age of 12. Setting a precedent that makes it ethically and practically impossible for any trans woman from competing in any international level FINA sanctioned swim competition, including Olympic level swimming. They announced a separate but equal adoption of a so called “mixed” category, but given their decision is rooted in fear and misogyny rather than science and seeks to exclude swimmers, it has been criticized by civil rights advocates and actual sport scientists alike.
“It’s very unfortunate that FINA has made this ruling,” said Joanna Harper, a medical physicist who has written extensively on gender and sport and advised several international sports federations, including the International Olympic Committee. “Trans women are not taking over women’s sports, and they are not going to.”
To date, there has only been one ever trans woman to compete in any sport at the Olympics, New Zealand’s Laurel Hubbard during the Tokyo Olympics and she did not proceed past the initial level of her competition.
This decision comes on the heels of the International Athletics Federation (IAAF) imposing a maximum testosterone level for cisgender female athletes who are now required to maintain 5nmol/l of testosterone or less to be eligible compete. This rule was specifically adopted to exclude athlete Caster Semenya who, despite undergoing unethical genital examinations to “prove” she is a woman, lives with hyperandrogenism that means her body produces higher than average testosterone in the bloodstream. The IAAF using their rule to regulate what it means to be a “woman” based solely on an arbitrary testosterone measure that, like the FINA policy, has no scientific basis or reality.
To make the matter worse, FINA is reimposing archaic chromosomal testing to impose their new policy. Stating that only athletes with XX chromosomes will be eligible to compete. The International Olympic Committee imposed chromosomal testing of athletes from the 1960s throughout the 1990s before it was banned because human biology is much more complex, with cisgender female athletes regularly testing with chromosomal combinations other than XX. The procedure was criticized as degrading, inaccurate and costly. According to Eduardo Hay, head of the IOC’s Medical Commission in 1972 quoted in a report drafted in 2005,
“Procedures were, therefore, defined that included full clinical assessment of female athletes detected without two X chromosomes who wanted to continue to compete. Most, however, preferred either to feign injury or to retire than to subject themselves to the inevitable publicity and public scrutiny. A shame, since, as pointed out by Finnish geneticist Albert de la Chapelle in 1986, buccal smears were technically unreliable and detected athletes with genetic disorders, such as androgen insensitivity syndrome and gonadal dysgenesis, who were undeniably female. Paradoxically, the test would have permitted men with Klinefelter’s syndrome or XX males, who have a portion of the testicular determining gene (SRY) transposed onto the X chromosome, to compete.”
In FINA’s new policy barring trans athletes, they also go out of their way to define “female” for the purposes of their gender divisions in competitive swimming as “The word “female” means possession of XX chromosomes and (in the absence of medical intervention) ovaries and increased circulating estrogen and progesterone starting at puberty.” With their intention to enforce is via chromosomal testing.
Let’s be clear here, trans athletes have never “threatened” women’s sports. This has all been a straw man for religious conservative cisgender men to control and regulate women’s bodies through sport for the same kinds of reasons why the US Supreme Court, with a religious conservative majority, are stripping away the rights and freedoms of US citizens, for the first time in history. Their reasoning is built on archaic, out of date, inaccurate, sexist and misogynistic reasoning and sadly, they aren’t going to stop here.