Fina’s policy on trans women in swimming is based on science, facts and human rights

·3-min read
<span>Photograph: AP</span>
Photograph: AP

Chris Mosier claims that the new policy from swimming’s international federation, Fina, “is the largest ban on trans people’s participation in sport to date” (As elite sports think again about trans participation, our only demand is for fairness, 29 June). This is simply wrong. The Fina policy outlines a commitment to exploring additional open categories, alongside eligibility for all athletes according to biological sex rather than gender identity, “regardless of their legal gender, gender identity, or gender expression”.

Related: Opening up the debate about abolition of legal sex and gender status | Letters

This already happens. Many trans men and non-binary athletes including swimmer Iszac Henig at the NCAA Championships, and Quinn and Alana Smith at the Tokyo Olympics, remain in female categories since they would be uncompetitive in male or open categories. This highlights the problem with Mosier’s preferred category solution, which would asymmetrically benefit trans women, gifting them a 10%-30% advantage minimally affected by testosterone suppression, at the expense of all female athletes including trans men and non-binary athletes.

Mosier claims the Fina policy “is not based on science, facts or human rights”, and yet it is explicitly based on all three. It outlines clearly “Fina’s core commitment to equality of opportunity for both male and female athletes” and “equal representation in its programs and competitions of athletes of both biological sexes”. Equality between the sexes is a universal and fundamental human rights principle. In most sports, equality of opportunity for female athletes necessitates dedicated female categories.
Cathy Devine

• Jonathan Liew points out that both biological sex and family support are sources of advantage in sport, and asks why they are treated differently (Nadine Dorries offers the illusion of easy choices while trans athletes pay the price, 28 June). There are two ways of taking this. He might mean that those who want to control for biological sex (with biological sex classes) should also control for family support, handicapping those with strong family support, for example. Perhaps we should put lead weights in Andy Murray’s trainers, because of the strong support he receives from his mother, Judy. Or he might mean that, since we do not control for family support, we should not control for biological sex. The first horn of this lemma is absurd, so he must mean the second.

If Liew thinks that male advantage is unimportant for fairness, and that it should not count in the categorisation of sport, then he has a coherent argument. But it is an argument for the abolition of female sport.
Dr Jon Pike
The Open University

• It has been pleasing to see the Guardian publishing opinion pieces on both sides of the debate concerning the role of trans women in women’s sport. Finally, we appear to be allowed to have debate on this issue – not before time. What is clear from reading several articles, most recently those by Jonathan Liew and Mara Yamauchi (Ministers need to enforce fairness for females in sport – now, 29 June), is that the idea of allowing athletes with male bodies to compete against women and girls in sports completely undermines the fundamental principle of sports: fair competition between athletes in the same category. Male puberty gives insurmountable physical advantages to these athletes. These are not mitigated by testosterone suppression. This is not news or a surprise to anyone who has ever watched sports of any sort, at any level. This point seemed to be accepted by Liew, even as he argued that trans women should compete in women’s events.

Fina’s recent guidelines, which appear to be heading towards an open category and a women’s category, are to be welcomed. Trans women competing in an open category is not exclusion. Women turning away from sport due to the inherent unfairness of having to compete against athletes outside their protected category is. When it comes to sport, we can have fairness for female athletes or trans women in the female category. They are mutually exclusive, and sport must prioritise fairness first.
Liam Garvey
Stuttgart, Germany

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