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World Aquatics adds open category for trans women athletes

Women in competitive swimming
Photo: Shutterstock

World Aquatics, the governing body for international water sports, announced on Tuesday the establishment of an “open category” that will welcome transgender women in competition.

The announcement was made at the 2023 World Aquatics Championships in Fukuoka,  Japan.

“This is a very complex topic,” said the governing body’s president Husain Al-Musallam. “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,” he said.

Al-Musallam said the category would apply to multiple events and would take place in the future, but provided no details.  

World Aquatics, formerly known as FINA, is the federation recognized by the International Olympic Committee for administering international competitions in water sports.

“It was very important that we protected fair competition for our female athletes,” Al-Musallam said. “But you have heard me say many times there should be no discrimination. Nobody should be excluded from our competitions.”

The announcement came after World Aquatics joined several other sports organizations banning transgender women athletes from competition over the last year.

The restrictions followed a string of high-profile wins by trans women that earned international attention.

In March 2022, University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas became the first trans woman to earn a national title with her controversial win in the women’s 500-yard freestyle at the NCAA championships in Atlanta.

Thomas joined the women’s team at the University of Pennsylvania after competing for three years on the men’s squad.

In April, trans cyclist Austin Killips won the women’s Tour of the Gila in North Carolina, becoming the first transgender cyclist to win a sanctioned event. 

After initially supporting Killips’ right to ride, in July the Union Cycliste Internationale banned transgender women who have “transitioned after (male) puberty.” At the same time, President David Lappartient claimed cycling was “open to everyone, including transgender people.”

Track and field’s, triathlon’s, and rugby’s governing bodies, among others, have all issued bans of trans women athletes competing in those sports.

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