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New NCAA guidelines for trans athletes confuse amid Lia Thomas debate

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New NCAA guidelines for trans athletes confuse amid Lia Thomas debate

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The NCAA’s new policy for transgender athletes lacks clarity and could be difficult to enforce, say advocates on both sides of the issue.

The NCAA updated the policy after weeks of pressure from critics who say it is unfair to Lia Thomas – a transgender swimmer at the University of Pennsylvania who broke multiple records at a meet last month – to compete in the women’s swim team. But even if the NCAA appears to have “caved in,” as some supporters put it, to growing criticism, the new policy likely won’t affect Thomas’s ability to compete.

The NCAA Board of Governors voted in favor of a sport-by-sport approach to transgender athlete participation “that preserves opportunities for transgender student-athletes while balancing fairness, inclusion and safety for all those who compete,” he said Wednesday. He said the new policy, effective immediately, is consistent with recent policy changes by the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee and the International Olympic Committee.

Previously, National Collegiate Athletic Association guidelines required transgender female athletes to have undergone one year of testosterone suppression treatment in order to compete on a women’s team in any sport.

Now, transgender student-athletes who compete in swimming, for example, will look to USA Swimming for eligibility criteria. USA Swimming does not have a policy available online and did not respond to a request for comment.

The NCAA said that if a sport’s national governing body does not have a policy, athletes should look to the policy of the international sports federation. For swimming, it would be FINA, the Fédération Internationale De Natation, which is based in Switzerland. FINA’s policy is unclear and the organization did not respond to a request for comment.

The NCAA will also require transgender female athletes to document their testosterone levels at the start of the season, six months later, and then four weeks before their sport’s championship tryouts, although how this will be implemented is unclear. Claire.

John DeGioia, chairman of the NCAA board of directors and president of Georgetown University, said the governing body is “firm in our support for transgender student-athletes and in promoting equity in sports. academics”.

“It is important that NCAA member schools, conferences and varsity athletes compete in an inclusive, fair, safe and respectful environment and can move forward with a clear understanding of the new policy,” he said. he said in a statement.

Chris Mosier, a trans lawyer and duathlete, criticized the policy on Twitterthen again in an interview with ESPN.

“This update complicates NCAA politics in a way that I don’t think they are equipped to handle,” he told ESPN, adding that many national governing bodies have not created policies for trans athletes and that policies vary between national sports governing bodies, which means “monitoring compliance is going to be a nightmare for the NCAA.”

He added: “It creates a lot of different standards for trans athletes.”

Anne Lieberman, director of policy for Athlete Ally, a group that advocates for LGBTQ-inclusive sports policies, said it’s hard to say whether the policy is a step in the right or wrong direction when it comes to inclusivity.

“I have a lot more questions than answers,” Lieberman said. “What is absolutely not a step in the right direction is the fact that the NCAA basically let intense pressure on Lia Thomas specifically undermine the process.”

The NCAA did not respond to a request for comment.

Lieberman, who uses gender-neutral pronouns, said the NCAA’s first set of guidelines, released in 2011, were developed with many different parties, including trans and non-binary athletes. That the policy changed overnight without this kind of process “is very alarming,” they said, especially given the national context surrounding the decision.

Over the past few years, dozens of states have considered bills banning trans student-athletes from competing on sports teams of their gender identity, with 10 states — nine last year alone — passing new laws. such bills.

With a record number of anti-trans bills being considered in state legislatures, Thomas started his season at Penn. She declined an interview, but told the SwimSwam podcast that she had been on testosterone suppression treatment for more than 2½ years by the time she started competing on the women’s team in November.

His participation sparked national debate after breaking multiple records at the Zippy Invitational last month. His times in the 200-yard freestyle and 500-yard freestyle were the best in the nation this season, according to Penn Athletics. In the 1,650-yard freestyle in particular, she was 38 seconds ahead of teammate Anna Kalandadze, who finished second.

It’s unclear how the new policy will affect his turnout. A Penn Athletics spokesperson said they will work with the NCAA and continue to support Thomas.

“In support of our student-athlete, Lia Thomas, we will be working with the NCAA regarding her participation as part of the newly adopted standards for the 2022 NCAA Swimming and Diving Championship,” the spokesperson said via email.

Some former athletes say that although the policy is unclear, it is a positive change. Nancy Hogshead-Makar, Olympic swimming champion and founder of Champion Women, a nonprofit group that provides legal advocacy for girls and women in sports, said the new policy shows the NCAA is “open to new science-based changes that are coming,” but that it is disheartening that he says he puts equal priority on fairness, safety and inclusion.

Hogshead-Makar, who wrote in an op-ed that there was “nothing fair about competing against Lia Thomas” on Penn’s women’s team, said she believes the NCAA should prioritize equity and security before inclusion.

She said the NCAA is following recent research that shows that in some sports there is a greater performance gap between cisgender men and cisgender women that would not be fully mitigated by testosterone suppression. As a result, she said, the policy should vary by sport and trans women should not be allowed to participate in certain sports or events. Instead, they could play on recreational teams.

“If basically what you’re doing is trying to assert your gender and your identity, you don’t need to win,” she told NBC News. “You don’t have to be in a class that’s about honoring women’s accomplishments. There are other ways to be able to exercise.

She proposed that the NCAA allow Thomas to swim with their team, but that his times do not count for records and his wins do not count at all.

This position is extreme for some. While some transgender women likely retain an edge over cisgender women even after transitioning, that’s no reason to ban them from competition altogether, said Joanna Harper, a trans runner and a visiting researcher for transgender sports performance at England’s Loughborough University which published the first performance analysis of transgender athletes in 2015.

Harper is one of the lead authors of a review published last year in the British Journal of Sports Medicine that suggested trans women retain a strength advantage over cisgender women even after three years of hormone therapy, although She notes that the review looked at non-athlete trans women.

“We allow advantage in the sport,” she said, noting that left-handed baseball players have advantages over right-handed baseball players, for example. “But just saying that trans women have advantages, even if it’s true, doesn’t mean that trans women shouldn’t compete with cis women. Advantage is part of the reason we have winners and losers in sports, right? »

Harper said the NCAA’s new policy is a step in the right direction because she believes it needs to address testosterone levels one way or another. However, she noted that a 2019 study found that 94% of trans women have testosterone levels below 2 nanomoles per liter, compared to 95% of cisgender women. She is certain that Thomas’ testosterone levels are similar, but she will still swim fast.

“I predict she won’t win an NCAA championship,” Harper said. “But I bet she gets a medal or two, and is that going to piss people off? Yeah.”

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New NCAA guidelines for trans athletes confuse amid Lia Thomas debate

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