Restrictions on transgender athletes in international swimming are making waves in Canada

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FINA was the first major international sports federation to announce how it will address trans athletes in its sport following the International Olympic Committee’s release of guidelines on equity, non-discrimination and inclusion last November. .

“This is the first IF to exclude trans people, male-to-female trans people, in such an explicit way,” Bruce Kidd, professor emeritus of sport and public policy at the University, told The Canadian Press on Monday. of Toronto.

“I read the IOC’s general policy in a much more inclusive way, so it’s a disappointment for me. Some media have speculated that others will follow this path, which I think is would be regressive, discriminatory, etc.

Kidd, a long-distance runner for Canada at the 1964 Olympics, was part of a task force for the Canadian Center for Ethics in Sport when it compiled in 2016 a guide for sports organizations to create inclusive environments for trans participants.

“There are people against it,” Kidd said. “I’ve been in a couple of public forums lately and there are definitely people on both sides.

“But at the national leadership level, there is not much disagreement with the position of the CCES which is self-recognition, self-identification, no requirement for hormonal or surgical medical intervention, and no requirement of disclosure.”

The CCES allows for a changing understanding of science from more data to potentially change that position, Kidd said.

“The empirical record is so limited,” he said. “Let’s err in the direction of inclusion and equity and not add to discrimination, marginalization.”

Although Swimming Canada is not bound by FINA guidelines at the national level, Canadian swimmers are bound when competing internationally at a FINA sanctioned event.

Under current Swimming Canada rules, transgender swimmers who wish to swim for Canada in Olympic, Paralympic and World Championship events must have written proof from FINA that they are eligible to do so, in order to swim in national selection tests.

“Swimming Canada believes swimming is for everyone,” chief executive Ahmed El-Awadi said in a statement Monday. “We are pleased that FINA has taken these steps to bring clarity to matters such as this.

“We look forward to reviewing the policy in more detail and working with FINA and other key partners to align our policies in Canada.

The balance the sport is currently trying to strike is the inclusion of athletes regardless of their gender identity or sexual variations in a harassment-free environment while at an elite level where the financial stakes are high, s ensure that no athlete has an unfair advantage over the rest of the field.

Last month, Sport Canada ended financial support for a commissioned survey on inclusion when more than 200 members of the university and sport communities said in a letter that the language of the survey was discriminatory towards transgender athletes.

The intent of the survey was to investigate the views of top female athletes on the inclusion of trans athletes in their sports.

The United States has become a battleground for the issue, with some states passing legislation to ban trans women and girls from playing women’s sports.

While the IOC released guidelines and principles on inclusion last November, it ultimately leaves it up to each sport’s governing body to draft eligibility criteria and determine whether an athlete has an advantage. disproportionate.

Among the IOC’s principles were the rejection of the general assumption that male sex confers an athletic advantage in all sports and the discouragement of reliance on testosterone levels as the primary basis for female competition eligibility.

But FINA argues that, in consultation with its scientific working group, higher testosterone levels in men from puberty onwards give them a competitive edge in water sports.

FINA has stated that gender-affirming male-to-female transition procedures may ameliorate some, but not all, of the effects of testosterone on body structure and muscle function “but there will be lingering inherited effects that will give transgender athletes male-female (transgender females) a relative performance advantage over biological females.

“A biological female athlete cannot overcome this advantage through training or nutrition,” FINA said in the 24-page document that served as the basis for its decision.

Further review of the FINA document and more commentary over time was needed on such an important issue in the sport, Kidd said.

“There is a process, there are standards of proof, there is independent assessment, there is consultation,” he said. “If they had gone through that process and taken a year, I think people like me, I think the world would feel a lot more confident about it.

“If they had released this in draft form – and the CCES has always left the door open for further evidence – you have people around the world, scientists, athletes, ethicists, etc., and the people came to a consensus that way, so you’ve got some confidence in that, but not in that.

This report from The Canadian Press was first published on June 20, 2022.

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press

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