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New policy from world swimming body effectively bans transgender women

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

The world governing body for swimming effectively barred transgender women from elite competitions. The group is known as FINA, and its new policy keeps transgender women out of the world championships and the Olympics. The sole exception would be women who completed their transitions before the age of 12. Ciaran Fahey is a sports writer for The Associated Press and is in Budapest, covering swimming's world championships. Welcome.

CIARAN FAHEY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: Why did FINA decide this now?

FAHEY: FINA - OK, this goes back to recommendations made from the International Olympic Committee in November that sought to clarify the rules for transgender athletes. It's an issue that has been rumbling on for quite some time. And FINA, I guess, was the first sports body, I think, to try and seek some clarification just to make the rules clearer for everybody involved.

INSKEEP: Well, it certainly is a matter of debate in the United States. There's been much discussion of a college swimmer here, Lia Thomas, who swam as a man, then swam as a woman and set some women's records. But this does seem quite rare. It's quite rare, it would seem, that you would have a trans woman swimmer and quite rare that you would have one who's setting records and upsetting people. Is this any more common at the global level?

FAHEY: It's not common, but I guess it is an issue because these are bodies that want to be seen as inclusive and want to have competition open for everybody. It's why FINA has also announced the creation of an open category. So on one hand, it's excluding - effectively, excluding transgender athletes from women's competition because it wants to promote fairness, as well as inclusivity. And it has deemed that testosterone is effectively a performance enhancer and that anyone who has gone through puberty and received the benefit of testosterone would have an advantage, then, over women in women's competition. And this is the reason for that decision.

INSKEEP: And there is a lively debate, to say the least, about that question of testosterone. Let me ask you about this open category. So there would be three categories of swimming at an event if anybody wants to take advantage of the third category, men, women and open?

FAHEY: Yeah, that's effectively what has been suggested. So what FINA announced was that it would create a working group to finalize those details. So this is very much down the road. It's not something that is coming into effect straight away. But they're going to spend something like six months discussing this, trying to figure out how to make this happen. And those discussions are only starting today.

INSKEEP: Did anybody push back on this policy or ask why they should even be addressing this when it seems so rare?

FAHEY: I mean, it's hard to answer. It's something - it's obviously very divisive and - but it's something that members felt needed to be addressed. And because it's just been going on for some time, you have athletes who are being excluded from competition, from, you know, Olympic events and so on. And it was just really to create some clarity for that.

INSKEEP: Oh, that's interesting. So some at FINA are framing this not as an exclusionary policy but inclusive because they will create this open category and assure that someone who wants to compete will compete in one category or another. Is that what you're telling me?

FAHEY: That's it. I mean, FINA has proposed this as a gender inclusion policy, and that's what it's called. It's effectively an exclusive policy because it's excluding transgender women from women's competition.

INSKEEP: Ciaran Fahey, AP sports writer in Budapest, thanks so much.

FAHEY: OK, thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF CORRE'S "PROCEED") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.