USA Swimming Approves Transgender Policy
Summary: Should USA Swimming include transgender swimmers or keep the sport fair? They've managed to sidestep the hard decision for now.
Published: Oct. 10, 2018
Last Updated: Oct. 10, 2018
Keywords: transgender, USA Swimming, International Olympic Committee
It was inevitable. USA Swimming would one day need to decide how to deal with transgender swimmers. And that they did. Well, sort of. On September 29th, 2018 USA Swimming adopted a new transgender policy (Recommended Practices for Gender Diverse Minor Athletes).
The policy, in short, recommends that local swim clubs include swimmers of stated gender and treat them in a special way according to their unique needs. In other words, boys who think they are girls may compete against girls, and girls who think they are boys may compete against boys.
USA Swimming advises local clubs to let transgender athletes use bathrooms, changing rooms and hotel rooms of their choosing. And clubs should also provide gender neutral facilities and additional privacy if requested and if possible.
USA Swimming says they will recognize National Age Group Records if set by transgender athletes. What? Hold the phone!
This is the moment when transgender athlete inclusion becomes a sticky wicket. Feeling good about being inclusive is one thing, but winning and setting records is an entirely different conversation.
Take a look at the international swimming level and inspect the International Olympic Committee's policy on transgender athletes.
The IOC policy says that if you are a female transitioning to a male you may compete without restrictions.
However if you are a male transitioning to a female, then you must meet certain requirements, most notably, an athlete's testosterone levels have to be below a certain threshold for at least 12 months before competition. USA Swimming is following this policy as well.
The problem is: How do you include transgender swimmers and continue to make swimming a fair sport? The answer is: you don't. You can include transgender athletes and make swimming inherently unfair, or exclude transgender athletes and keep swimming fair.
Yes, we get it. There is a middle ground. Transgender athletes can compete and the sport will be fair—as long as they don't win.
Women transitioning to men: This is likely never going to be a problem at least at the national and international levels. Take these stats from FINA's 2018 world rankings:
1. Fastest women's 50m Freestyle is Sarah Sjostrom at 23.74. She's about 1.5 seconds out of the men's top 100 rankings.
2. Fastest women's 200m Butterfly is Alys Thomas at 2:05.45. She's roughly 7 seconds out of the men's top 100 rankings.
3. And what about world-record-holder Katie Ledecky? Her 15:20.48 1500m Freestyle puts her exactly 70th amongst the men.
Neither FINA or USA Swimming is worried about a woman competing against men. The possibility of a woman transitioning to a man and being competitive is statistically zero—unless they take copious amounts of testosterone—which is another discussion. The IOC addresses this in their policy too.
Men transitioning to women: This is where the two trains Southbound transgender athletes and Northbound fair sport are about to collide.
What if one of our top male athletes decides to transition? Out of the question? Remember a guy named Bruce Jenner? What if he had decided to become Caitlin in 1976? What if Abrahm DeVine, who recently came out as gay, declared himself a girl a few years ago? He would have likely rewritten the girls National Age Group records.
What if after alcohol counseling Ryan Lochte decides the real root of his problem is that he's been struggling with gender identity problems and now desires to be a woman? Even after 12 months of keeping his testosterone below the legal threshold, we'd give him a good chance at breaking some women's world records.
This is not to say that any of this will happen, but rather that something like this could happen. And when it does, USA Swimming will have to make a decision: Include the transitioned athlete at the peril of others, or keep the sport fair.
It's a decision they've managed to sidestep for now.