Sport

Women swimmers come out swinging for trans teammate Lia Thomas: ‘She has our full support’

Maggie Baska February 2, 2022
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Lia Thomas is in the pool after a swim meet

Lia Thomas finishes the 200 yard Freestyle for the University of Pennsylvania at an Ivy League swim meet against Harvard University on 22 January 2022. (Joseph Prezioso/AFP via Getty)

Members of the University of Pennsylvania Women’s Swimming and Diving Team have thrown their “full support” behind teammate Lia Thomas.

Thomas, who competes as a swimmer on the university team, has become the subject of hateful transphobia amid a nationwide debate over trans inclusion in sports.

Following her stellar performances, some critics have claimed that Thomas had an unfair advantage, and there have been anonymous reports that some Penn swimmers were upset by Thomas’ feats.

One anonymous swimmer told Outkick that she and Lia Thomas’ fellow teammates felt “discouraged” by her performance because they believed they “do not have the chance to win”.

However, an unsigned statement from Thomas’ teammates, which was first reported by ESPN, have disputed this claim, saying they fully support and love the trans swimmer.

“We want to express our full support for Lia in her transition,” the athletes said. “We value her as a person, teammate and friend.”

The statement continued: “The sentiments put forward by an anonymous member of our team are not representative of the feelings, values and opinions of the entire Penn team, composed of 39 women with diverse backgrounds.”

The athletes acknowledged in the statement that they recognise this is a “matter of great controversy”, and they are “doing our best to navigate it while still focusing on doing our best in the pool and classroom”.

A Penn spokesperson told ESPN that the statement represented “several” members of the women’s swimming and diving team.

Lia Thomas clutches the side of a pool during a swimming meet and smiles at other competitors
Lia Thomas, a swimmer for the University of Pennsylvania, smiles after winning the 200 meter freestyle event during a tri-meet on 8 January 2022. (Getty/Hunter Martin)

In January, the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) abandoned its blanket policy regarding the participation of trans athletes, deferring to the national governing bodies of each sport.

The previous policy from 2010 was based on hormonal requirements for trans, non-binary and gender non-conforming student-athlete participation.

Shortly afterwards, Penn Athletics said it would work with the NCAA to ensure that Lia Thomas could participate at the 2022 swimming and diving championships in March. But the change in the NCAA’s policy now means that the final decision rests with USA Swimming.

USA Swimming updated its policy regarding the participation of trans athletes in “approved elite events” on Tuesday (1 February).

The new policy, effective immediately, requires that trans women swimmers maintain a testosterone level below 5 nanomoles per litre continuously for at least 36 months before the competition.

Additionally, trans swimmers must provide evidence that they don’t have an unfair competitive advantage from the “prior physical development of the athlete as a male”, USA Swimming said. This evidence would be reviewed by a three-person independent medical panel.

More: Lia Thomas, trans athletes

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