Three iconic figures in women’s sports made waves over the weekend as they questioned the fairness of the NCAA’s transgender politics amidst swimmer Penn Lia Thomas’ record-breaking season.
Tennis greats Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert stepped in after Olympic swimming champion Nancy Hogshead-Makar broke the ice by declaring that there was “nothing fair” in the NCAA rules allowing Thomas to swim in the Ivy League women’s team.
“Thomas proves that advocates who assured the NCAA and their member schools that male puberty could be overturned in a single year after regular hormone therapy were wrong,” Hogshead-Makar said in an op-ed Friday for the [U.K.] Daily Mail, which was reprinted in Swimming World.
“The rules should follow the evidence, and in this case it’s clear: Thomas shouldn’t be in direct competition with biological females,” she said.
His article was title, “It wasn’t fair when I raced against drugged East Germans and it wasn’t fair for women to compete against transgender swimmer Lia Thomas.”
Navratilova called the article a “well-reasoned and fair take on the inclusion of trans women in women’s sports, IMO. Well done Nancy. Evert responded on Saturday with his own tweet: “I support this.”
Their voices gave instant credibility and visibility to the reluctance of the NCAA policy allowing transgender athletes to compete in women’s sports as long as they undergo a year of testosterone suppression therapy, a standard Hogshead-Makar has said. called woefully inadequate.
The average gap between the men’s and women’s NCAA Championship “A” qualifying times is 11.41%, she said, but Thomas is only 2.6% slower in the 200 freestyle than its pre-transition time and 5.76% slower at 500.
“This is NOT a mitigation. It is NOT fair,” Hogshead-Makar said. “I must add that it is not Lia’s fault. The problem stems from the NCAA rules that allow Penn to keep her in her women’s team.
Thomas, 22, swam for three years on the men’s team as Will Thomas, winning second-team All-Ivy honors, before transitioning to the women’s and the women’s team for the 2021 season -22.
Thomas holds this year’s fastest times in the 200 and 500 freestyle events, fueling speculation she could make a run for the records held by Missy Franklin and Katie Ledecky at the NCAA Division I Championships in March .
“[I]If Thomas breaks the NCAA swimming records of Olympic gold medalists Missy Franklin or Katie Ledecky, that result is grossly unfair, ”Hogshead-Makar said.
I agree…. https://t.co/dcVnt27wLq
– Chris Evert (@ChrissieEvert) December 25, 2021
She and Navratilova are members of the Women’s Sports Policy Working Group, which seeks to find a ‘middle ground’ between excluding transgender athletes from men and women and allowing those with ‘male physical advantages’ to compete in women’s sports and female.
Chris Evert is listed as a supporter of the group. The same goes for Renee Richards, the first male-female player to compete in professional women’s tennis, who has noted that trans athletes enjoy unfair advantages over their female-born competitors.
Hogshead-Makar said there should be opportunities for trans athletes to compete, including against biological women, “as long as they can demonstrate that they have lost their gender and male puberty advantage.” .
“Sport has been set up as binary with men and women, and sport has to adapt by adding new events and classifications, rather than throwing away the meaning of ‘girls’ and women categories,” he said. she declared.
The growing outcry over Thomas’s situation stems from sports federations around the world grappling with how to balance equity and inclusion as transgender male-female athletes seek to compete in women’s events.
Adopted in 2011, the NCAA rule does not specify that transgender athletes must keep their testosterone below a certain level, as other organizations have done.
For example, World Athletics, the international athletics authority, requires middle distance runners to keep their blood testosterone levels below 5 nanomoles per liter [nmol/L] for at least six months prior to competition, and then continuously throughout their career to maintain eligibility.
The 2018 policy stated that most women, including elite athletes, have naturally occurring blood testosterone levels of 0.12 to 1.76 nmol / L, while the post-puberty men range is 7.7 to 29.4 nmol / L.
“No woman would have serum natural testosterone levels of 5 nmol / L or more unless she has DSD [Difference in Sexual Development] or a tumor, ”the World Athletics statement said.
The International Olympic Committee previously recommended that sports federations adopt a standard for transgender male-female athletes of 10 nmol / L for at least 12 months before the competition, but in November, the IOC revised its guidelines.
The last guidelines no longer recommends specific testosterone levels, but rather emphasizes that all eligibility criteria should be based on “solid, peer-reviewed research” and that there should be “no presumption of benefit” without evidence .
While the NCAA has not commented directly on Thomas’ uproar, the organization released a statement in April supporting its policies providing “a more inclusive path for transgender participation in college sports.”
“Our approach – which requires testosterone suppression therapy for transgender women to compete in women’s sports – embraces the evolution of science on this issue and is grounded in the participation policies of the International Olympic Committee and the Committee. US Olympic and Paralympic, ”said the NCAA. declaration. “Inclusion and equity can coexist for all student-athletes, including transgender athletes, at all levels of sport. “
Others have also called on the NCAA to take action. A group of Penn’s parents reportedly sent a letter asking the NCAA to protect the integrity of the sport, while the Swimming World editor called Thomas’ advantage “is akin to doping” and urged the NCAA to “act quickly”.
Last week, Cynthia Millen resigned after officiating USA Swimming meetings for 30 years to protest Thomas’ situation and called on other officials to do the same until swimming authorities look into the matter. .
In a December 8 interview with SwimSwam, Thomas said she felt “confident and good about my swimming and all of my personal relationships,” adding that she had tried to ignore the reviews.
“I’m just not committing with that,” Thomas said. “It’s not healthy for me to read it and engage in it at all, and so I don’t, and that’s all I’ll say about it.”
Some LGBTQ media have accused the critics of transphobia. SB Nation’s Outsports said Thomas was the victim of ‘anti-trans panic’, while the LGBTQ nation has declared it to be the target of a “conservative reaction”.
“Trans athletes at all levels – including U Penn swimmer Lia Thomas – deserve equal access and participation in the sport they love, without discrimination or abuse,” athlete Ally said on Wednesday. Tweeter. “Scholars and leading academics in the fields of kinesiology, law and policy and gender studies agree that trans women do not have an inherent advantage and are not a threat to women’s sport. “
Others disagree. Hogshead-Makar compared her days of competing against East German athletes using steroids, saying she was only able to win three Olympic golds and one silver because the Soviet bloc boycotted the 1984 Games in Los Angeles.
Further, she said, even though East German women were “doped to the gills, they were only slightly better than the best biological women; none of them were competitive with men.
Penn’s women’s swimming team resume their season with a January 8 home encounter against Dartmouth.