A civil war is brewing in swimming in the wake of world governing body FINA's decision to effectively ban transgender athletes from competing in women's events.
FINA members widely adopted a new “gender inclusion policy” over the weekend that only permits swimmers who transitioned before age 12 to compete in women’s events.
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The organisation also proposed an "open competition category" specifically for transgender and other gender non-specific athletes.
The new policy was passed by 71% of the vote across 152 FINA members and was described as "only a first step towards full inclusion" for trans athletes.
Australian Olympic greats Cate Campbell and Emily Seebohm are among the most high-profile swimmers to publicly endorse FINA's controversial new move.
Campbell, a triple Olympic gold medallist and former 100 metres freestyle world record holder, addressed the FINA congress before the vote on Monday morning AEDT.
The swimming champion said she "wrestled long and hard with myself" before publicly backing the move, and was mindful that she didn't want to exclude or marginalise transgender athletes further than they already have been.
"We see you, value you and accept you," Campbell said, indirectly addressing transgender swimmers.
"My role, however, is also to stand up here, having asked our world governing body, FINA, to investigate, deliberate and uphold the cornerstone of fairness in elite women's competition.
"And it pains me that this part of my role may injure, infuriate and, potentially, alienate people from an already marginalised community.
"Believe me, I have wrestled long and hard with myself, with what to say and do.
"I am aware that my actions and words, no matter what I say, will anger some people, whether they are from the (transgender) community or from the cisgender female community.
"However I am asking everyone to take a breath, to absorb before reacting.
"Listen to the science and experts, listen to the people who stand up here and tell you how difficult it has been to reconcile inclusion and fairness."
Campbell said the FINA policy was created not from "what we felt was the right thing to do".
"The policy was created with the inclusion of medical professionals, legal professionals, athletes, coaches and people from the transgender community," she said.
"It is a policy that pays attention to inclusion, but prioritises fairness.
“It is my hope that young girls all around the world can continue to dream of becoming Olympic and World Champions in a female category prioritising the competitive cornerstone of fairness.
“However, it is also my hope that a young gender-diverse child can walk into a swimming club and feel the same level of acceptance that a nine-year-old immigrant kid from Africa did all those years ago.”
Aussie swimming compatriot Maddie Groves - who famously quit the trials for the Olympic Games last year citing “misogynistic perverts" in Australian swimming - hit out at Campbell's comments and said the decision was anything but accepting.
“So you ban them (transgender athletes) from competing with their peers? You’re okay with ostracising an already marginalised group? Real accepting," Groves wrote on Twitter.
“There are already gender diverse people in swimming and I’m guessing they’re not feeling very accepted (right now). Shame on everyone that supported this discriminatory and unscientific decision.”
There are already gender diverse people in swimming and I’m guessing they’re not feeling very accepted rn. Shame on everyone that supported this discriminatory and unscientific decision.
— Maddie Groves (@MaddieGroves_) June 20, 2022
Aussie swimmers scared to speak up on trans debate
Seebohm was one of very few Aussie swimmers that spoke out about the issue before FINA's move and said despite the inevitable backlash, she was glad a concrete decision had been made for trans athletes.
“I’m just thankful that finally we have a decision,” she told The Today Show.
“We have a direction. We’re not saying no to transgender athletes, we are saying yes, we are going to make a category for you.”
“I feel like it is such a hard topic. No-one wants to the first one to say anything.
“Because you are scared of cancel culture, right? That’s such a thing now. If you say one wrong thing, you’re done."
Transgender activist Taylor Lianne Chandler, who said she used testosterone blockers before having surgery to remove her male genitalia in her early 20s, said FINA's move had set transgender rights "back 100 years".
An advocacy group speaking on behalf of trans athletes also slammed FINA's controversial new bans.
FINA’s “deeply discriminatory, harmful, unscientific” new policy is “not in line with (the IOC’s) framework on fairness, inclusion and non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sex variations,” Anne Lieberman of Athlete Ally, a nonprofit that advocates for LGBTQ athletes, said in a statement.
“The eligibility criteria for the women’s category as it is laid out in the policy (will) police the bodies of all women, and will not be enforceable without seriously violating the privacy and human rights of any athlete looking to compete in the women’s category."
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