As Lia Thomas’ College Career Nears End, Fight For Fairness Must Continue

lia-thomas-

Editorial content for the 2022 NCAA DI Women's Swimming & Diving Championships coverage is sponsored by Swiss Timing. See full event coverage.
Follow Swiss Timing on Instagram at @omega #OMEGAOfficialTimekeeper

Swiss-Timing-Logo-2022

As Lia Thomas’ College Career Nears End, Fight For Fairness Must Continue

The debate is over now, right? Wrong.

Some topics must stay in the headlines. Some controversies just can’t be dismissed. Some discussions must stay active. And so, despite Lia Thomas faltering on Friday night at the NCAA Women’s Swimming Championships, this is no time to let the transgender-participation storyline fade to black. If that approach was adopted, it would mark a disservice to the sport and to biological women.

Let’s get the details of the evening settled. On the third night of the NCAA Champs in Atlanta, Thomas finished in fifth place in the 200-yard freestyle, an event won by Stanford’s Taylor Ruck in impressive fashion. For Thomas, the top seed entering the meet, the University of Pennsylvania senior clocked 1:43.40 and was more than a second slower than her season-best swim, and the time she delivered in the morning preliminaries.

Thomas’ most-recent result arrived 24 hours after she captured an NCAA title in the 500-yard freestyle, making her the first transgender woman to win a collegiate crown. And to be honest, her performance in the 200 freestyle – from the start – looked like an effort that didn’t invoke full power.

Thomas, of course, is a transgender woman who has been at the center of controversy since early December, when she popped a pair of nation-leading times at the Zippy Invitational. A three-year member of the men’s squad at Penn, Thomas transitioned to female during the COVID-19 pandemic and joined the women’s team for the 2021-22 campaign.

Because she underwent more than a year of hormone-suppressant therapy, which met NCAA guidelines, Thomas was deemed eligible for competition. What was overlooked by the governing body were the advantages Thomas reaped from male puberty. A 6-3 frame. Greater natural strength. Larger hands and feet. Enhanced lung capacity. Thomas has put those assets together to morph from also-ran status on the male side to championship caliber in female competition.

The debate surrounding Thomas has been divisive, one side arguing that a transgender woman who underwent male puberty has an unfair edge. The other side has argued that Thomas, living as her authentic self, deserves the opportunity to race as she identifies. With just the 100 freestyle left to contest in her college career, Thomas’ tale is nearing its conclusion at this level.

Still, this topic is one that is unlikely to go away. At some point, another transgender woman will seek to compete in NCAA competition. Additionally, Thomas recently indicated her desire to keep swimming and pursue representation of the United States on the international stage. That scenario necessitates keeping this topic in the present.

To emphasize the need for action, let’s conduct a brief class in mathematics. In no way does 3+2 = 6. You will never see 7-4 = 2. And the answer to 4×3 is not 10. But in collegiate swimming, the numbers game has been so warped by the NCAA that 554, in fact, has been the equivalent of No. 1. How did we arrive at that determination? Well, this is the result when an athlete who races with the benefits of male puberty squares off with biological women.

During the 2018-19 campaign, when Thomas was still a member of her school’s men’s program, her best time in the 200-yard freestyle was an effort of 1:39.31. That mark was good for only 554th in the nation (all divisions) and didn’t sniff the qualification standard for the NCAA Champs. Yet, the moment she went 1:41.93 during a December 2021 invitational, she was ranked first among women. Such a shift in standing clearly illuminates the physiological differences between a male-born athletes and biological females.

Based on scientific data and statistics measuring the gap between male and female performances, Thomas’ percentage differences between her men’s-team times and women’s-squad performances are far lower than the average differences between males and females in similar events. For example, the percentage difference between Thomas’ 200 freestyle times of three years ago and current day is less than 3%. The difference between the male and female American records, however, is 10%. Obviously, Thomas’ advantages have not been mitigated.

Although the NCAA declined to adopt the decision, USA Swimming has instituted guidelines that will require transgender women to prove mitigation of their male-puberty advantage. According to USA Swimming’s new rules, no transgender athlete will be allowed to compete in the women’s category without showing that her concentration of testosterone in serum has been less than 5 nmol/L for a continuous period of 36 months. Further, transgender athletes hoping to compete in women’s events would also have to provide “evidence that the prior physical development of the athlete as a male, as mitigated by any medical intervention, does not give the athlete a competitive advantage over the athlete’s cisgender female competitors.” Final determination of eligibility would be made by a panel.

Certainly, USA Swimming has moved this debate in the right direction by developing stringent requirements for competitions.

One of the greatest athletes in history, Martina Navratilova has long fought for equality in women’s sports. The 18-time grand slam singles champion and member of the International Tennis Hall of Fame has also been a leading advocate for the LGBTQ community. During the past three-plus months, she has routinely noted the unfairness of Thomas racing against biological women, although recognizing the Penn athlete has abided by the rules set forth by the NCAA.

On Thursday, Navratilova was interviewed by Rich McHugh of News Nation and provided her view on the Thomas situation. During the discussion, Navratilova offered several options for transgender women, including the possibility of having an open classification (men/transgender athletes) and a women’s category. She also suggested providing a lane for Thomas in competition but making her ineligible to earn a medal.

“It’s not about excluding transgender women from winning, ever,” Navratilova said during the interview. “But it is about not allowing them to win when they were not anywhere near winning as men. You try to keep it as close as possible to what it would have been had you been born in the female biological body in the first place.

“The climate is such that people can’t speak out or even ask questions. And the athletes themselves are not allowed to speak out. They have been warned to be quiet and warned to not say anything. They may lose their scholarship. Who knows how they would be punished? In normal society, in everyday life, 100 percent inclusion. When it comes t sports, we have categories based on biology, and that’s pretty much that.”

What will the future look like when it comes to transgender participation in women’s swimming? Time will provide that answer. But as the sport waits for a definitive resolution, the battle for fairness for biological female athletes must continue. It can’t be paused, for that move would serve as further betrayal.

It’s simple: Keep the fight active. Women and the sport deserve it.

30 Comments
Oldest
Newest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
avatar
Terry Watts
8 months ago

Fairness in Sports starts with treating athletes fairly. Supporting fairness in womens sports shouldn’t come with treating another athlete with indignity, John.

avatar
Febwitch76
8 months ago
Reply to  Terry Watts

But that’s what they want. They don’t want transgender athletes to compete at all, much less win. You notice Martina is quiet when questioned about Transgender Males (women transitioning to men) competing on women’s team such as Izac Hening on the Yale team. The bottom line is that transgender males are ok but transgender females are not.

avatar
Em Em
8 months ago
Reply to  Febwitch76

Hening needs to get “his” butt over to the male team.

The fact that Hening, a “man” gets to stay on the women’s team because “he” apparently couldn’t make the men’s team is kinda…hypocritical?

And Lia, who claims “she” can’t swim against men is happily swimming against Hening, a “man” is… kinda hypocritical too, huh?

But gender ideology is nothing if not logically inconsistent and hypocritical. And misogynistic beyond belief.

avatar
Febwitch76
8 months ago
Reply to  Em Em

Well I didn’t see those complaining about Lia complain about Hening. Mayne because he’s a female who is transitioning to a man and that’s acceptable to those hate Lia. As long as it’s biological females astransitioning to men that’s acceptable for them to stay on the women’s team to people like Martina, etc.

avatar
Ellea
8 months ago
Reply to  Febwitch76

Thomas went through male puberty, no amount of hormone suppression will give her the same levels as females who have “normal” testosterone levels. Henning went through female puberty and had not started testosterone and therefore was able to continue on the women’s team.

avatar
river6640
8 months ago
Reply to  Febwitch76

Female to male. If you can overcome the physical disadvantages you are an incredible athlete. Male to female. If you start with advantages no one else can have, isn’t that cheating

avatar
Billy
8 months ago
Reply to  Febwitch76

I think that male to female trans athletes should be allowed to compete, compete against men because that is really what they are. Lia Thomas should compete against men, because he’s a biological man. It’s a very simple, fair and logical solution.

avatar
Ellea
8 months ago
Reply to  Febwitch76

Henning did not start hormone therapy which is why he was able to still compete with the women (he hadn’t started testosterone)

avatar
Alicia Knittel
8 months ago

Hey John, I’m a cis woman, and I’d have no problem lifting you up into my strong feminine arms and putting you in the trash where you belong. You may have delusions of championing fairness in women’s sports, but from here all I see is transphobia and misogyny layered together like some sort of fecal lasagna. You may enjoy that in your kitchen, John, but don’t think you’re going to bring it to mine and act like it’s some kind of gift.

avatar
Billy
8 months ago
Reply to  Alicia Knittel

Get a clue will you. Lia is a man, not a woman. Fairness in athletics like swimming starts and ends with men competing against men and women competing against women. To allow a man like Lia Thomas to compete against women is NOT a level playing field and certainly not fair to the real women. Anyone who says Lia is a woman is a fool and lying to themselves.

avatar
river6640
8 months ago
Reply to  Alicia Knittel

Using the concept that we are all equal as human beings, there can be both good and bad Trans people. That would mean that Trans people can commit crimes just as any other group can.
So if a Trans person commits a horrible crime, against your family, do they get away with it because they say the DNA evidence does not match their personally perceived gender identity ? Yet we should ignore the same science in athletics ?

avatar
Tom
8 months ago
Reply to  Alicia Knittel

As usual, not a single argument from an anti-science bigot. You’re the actual (auto)misogynist wanting female athletes to face unfair competition.

avatar
bill
8 months ago

i love how the sub-mediocre times of the rest of the field don’t bother you, Also, are you trying to tell us Ledecky was born a male?

avatar
Ellen coughlin
8 months ago

What are people not getting trans is trans is trans you are not identified as a female you are not identified yet as a male therefore you should have your own group called trans events where all the trans people can jcompete with each other it would not specify how far in the process you have transed have you had surgery or how many hormones have you replaced or suppressed, no one needs to know that and that’s fine that’s your personal business , I can’t imagie any person who is called a trans would have objection to that. but whatever drug or treatment you’re taking doping or otherwise is giving you a clear advantage that should not be allowed.

avatar
Aimee
8 months ago
Reply to  Ellen coughlin

The biological girls are not comfortable with Lia in the same locker room, junk hanging between his legs. How long is this argument going to continue? Why keep tormenting the biological women?

avatar
Ellen coughlin
8 months ago

And please do not say that women have any problem with trans people swimming or competing wherever and whenever they want.
This is about “trans “women competing with biological women.
Don’t be throwing that whole phobic thing out there. Calling out people as “ phobic “ is a convenient dismissive superiority attack For a non-response. Men should not be swimming with women and of story This is tiring me out

avatar
Ellen coughlin
8 months ago

Yes and drop the cis baloney We are women. Don’t label me some made up name that you concocted yesterday because you like to label people

avatar
David
8 months ago

World has gone mad and I guess we all have to learn to live with it

avatar
Ken
8 months ago

When many people thought the earth was flat they had an excuse – they did not know any better, Those supporting males competing against females do know better but they support it anyway. And the cruelest thing is to see some women supporting this nonsense.

avatar
Jo Snow
8 months ago

Think it’s time for mixed events in addition so that transgender swim community can still compete without comment and critics. These events could then be open to all give swimmers a choice. Come on Swimming lead the way

avatar
Alfred
8 months ago

Everyone needs to watch/rewatch the movie “Gaslight” (1944). Trans people are going to go around and around with their serpentine “reasoning” and abusive accusations of abuse until they succeed in confusing people to the point where whatever they say has to be believed. I am tired of them–and they will not succeed with me. Women swimmers, don’t feed this–it is not for any “greater good.”

avatar
river6640
8 months ago

Having larger hands and feet to propel you and larger lung capacity so you don’t tire as quickly. Do we or do we not think that is worth at least 0.01 seconds? The amount many top level competitions are won by.
In studies I’ve read, male to female athletes can have a 5% to 14% advantage due to the construct of their body. In weight lifting in the 200 # range that’s 10# to 28#. Way more than the amount needed to win. In modern athletics we train using the most scientific methods. Yet when it comes proven science and transgender, science goes out the window. Pointing out these facts is not hate or Transphobia

avatar
river6640
8 months ago

I wonder that if we had a trans specific competition, would female to male athletes feel it was fair that they were competing against male to female athletes.

avatar
Swimfan
8 months ago

Why is it so difficult for the NCAA to open their eyes and see that: the para-Olympics, special Olympics and Olympics were established for fairness in sport. Just open a category for both transgender male and female athletes who’d like to continue their athletics and participate fairly. It is obvious and logical that these transgender athletes are biologically not the same as their female and male counterparts. All people have the right to be happy and to be treated fairly. If that means having extra heats in finals or completely different championship meets, due to numbers qualified, then that’s what the NCAA should be doing to support all student-athletes. Not pushing women to the back, attempting to silence them, and taking spots away from cis-female athletes. Just a thought.

avatar
Amazon
8 months ago

I disagree with Martina, who was one of my childhood idols. Having a man in the pool who I know will beat me would be demoralizing. Even if I won against the other women I would feel I hadn’t really won if the man beat me.

Maybe because Martina is a tennis player she doesn’t understand what a race feels like in a pool?

Also, Martina calls for 100% inclusion of transgenders in everyday life. That would mean that any man can claim to be transgender and enter a place where women are naked. This has already happened to the Penn swimmers in their locker room, but it would be every woman at risk of a naked man or being seen naked by a man.

I love Martina, but I feel she’s being too nice, or she hasn’t thought through what she’s proposing.

avatar
Dennis farrell
8 months ago

A man is a man

avatar
ToddK
8 months ago

Testosterone level is a very poor way to decide whether a guy can swim as a woman. The US swimming rule states a person must have a free testosterone level below 5 for 36 months to be able to complete as a woman. I don’t believe Lia actually met that standard.
But testosterone level means nothing when born a Male, went through puberty as s Male and trained at an elite level as a Male. Musculoskeletal strength is way higher than any woman.
Example of how low testosterone level means nothing.
I’m 60 had free testosterone level of 6. I was deadlifting over 315 pounds, squatting over 315 pounds and pressing almost 135 pounds over my head.
Those weights are way above what the average woman can do.

avatar
Moira
8 months ago

Please don’t give up following this issue – as you say we can’t let it die. And anyone who uses the transphobic language to refute this article – WOULD YOU READ IT FOR GOODNESS SAKES! NO one wants to exclude anyone from being able to compete, but the conversation has to be had to make sure it’s fair for everyone and how should our sport be organized going forward. But if you don’t even allow the conversation to be had and you are shouting hate words upon the group who’s trying to be constructive to keep them quiet – that’s bullying, lazy, and just trying to serve an agenda of a group without thinking of the others that are being affected. I also disagree with those who are directing all their hate towards Lia and also not respecting her life transition when it comes to how they address her. This is not Lia’s fault as she has followed the current guidelines of the governing bodies of the sport she’s participating in. However, she has just brought a very real issue to light that must be discussed and solved in the best way we can.

Why would an open category and a biological women category be a bad thing, I’m truly asking.

avatar
gbaird
8 months ago

I found a simple solution from the auto racing world which includes funny cars, dragsters, NASCAR, IndyCar, Formula 1, etc. Just add a third category at swimming competitions: Men transitioning to Women. Maybe also add women transitioning to men? There are still questions about whether it is healthy for men and women to try to change their genders, but at least creating their own non-binary categories would be fair to women in sports.

avatar
John
7 months ago

Thank you for highlighting this issue, which is critical for our girls. They work too hard for us to allow the blatant unfairness to stand.