Olympic legend speaks out over FINA transgender ban: 'Gone too far'

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·Sports Reporter
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Australian Sports Commission boss Kieren Perkins says he has several concerns that FINA's ban on transgender athletes will create further problems.  (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)
Australian Sports Commission boss Kieren Perkins says he has several concerns that FINA's ban on transgender athletes will create further problems. (Photo by Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images)

Australian Olympic legend Kieren Perkins has been left less than impressed with the process behind FINA's ban on transgender competitors, suggesting the decision had been rushed.

Perkins, a two-time Olympic gold medallist who was recently made chief executive of the Australian Sports Commission, expressed concern about how the decision would trickle down to local clubs, warning of a trail of 'human carnage'.

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FINA, the international body governing world swimming, announced on Monday that transgender athletes would effectively be banned from competition and instead a new open category would be created.

Transgender athletes who made their transition prior to reaching puberty will be allowed to compete in the gender category they identify with, while those who transition later in life will, for now, be directed to the open category.

Perkins, in an interview with SEN, said that while he welcomed some aspects of the decision he was gravely concerned about the 'extreme' tone of the surrounding debate which he believes had become bigger than the issue at hand.

“This is a really challenging dialogue for anybody and one of the main reasons is that, unfortunately, the far sides of the argument have created this incredible emotive energy around the topic," he said.

“The reality is the Save Women’s Sport movement, which suggests women’s sport is about to disappear because of a wave of transgender athletes, is incredibly erroneous.

"Then of course, at the other end, that there should be unabated, open competition for whatever gender you identify with, is going too far and missing the fairness argument around speed, strength and stamina.”

Perkins said he was concerned about the process by which FINA came to the conclusions they diud earlier in the week.

He questioned the transparency of FINA's research, outright saying he disagreed with FINA's stance that 'the science has been proved'.

“I read FINA talking about ‘the science’ has been proved. What proof? Everything that I have seen suggests that, actually, we’re not really sure yet," he noted.

"When you talk to medical professionals who are dealing directly in this environment, there isn’t clarity without compromise with the science of it all.“

Perkins said that while FINA's decision would be theirs to enforce at an elite level, he was concerned transgender athletes at lower levels would be discriminated against.

“FINA has been clear in their dialogue that they are talking about a very small microcosm, which is elite [sport]," he said.

"What they have missed in acknowledging that is that it is the billboard for sport, the main focus, and I get very, very concerned that domestic competitions will accept that ruling and run with that regardless of the human carnage it creates at their local, domestic level."

Kieren Perkins unimpressed with rushed through FINA bombshell

Perkins believed FINA's decision had been rushed in part due to controversy surrounding US college swimmer Lia Thomas.

Thomas began hormone treatment to transition from male to female in 2019, complying with NCAA rules throughout, however controversy erupted after she emerged as the top-ranked competitor in the 200m and 500m freestyle.

Perkins said it was particularly important for the likes of FINA and other national organisations to realise that transgender people are already at an elevated risk of mental ill health and suicide, and as such did not need to be treated like a political football.

“The thing that has disappointed me deeply in this dialogue is we sit here having this very vocal and extreme debate about a section of society that is incredibly marginalised, incredibly misunderstood and already suffers from significant incidences of mental health and suicide," he said.

Dual Olympic gold medallist Kieren Perkins says FINA's ban on transgender athletes risks alienating people from the sport. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)
Dual Olympic gold medallist Kieren Perkins says FINA's ban on transgender athletes risks alienating people from the sport. (Photo by Chris Hyde/Getty Images)

“FINA has made this determination on the basis that it looks like there could be one athlete in the entire globe who might potentially, maybe get there.

"In the meantime, transgender participation in sport is among the lowest of all demographics that are assessed in sport in Australia.

“Now the first stone has fallen, we can have that conversation back at the national level about how we do approach this.

"I hope swimming in Australia is able to engage the community at large. At the moment, with what FINA announced, I don’t think they have quite got there.”

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