The controversial career of a transgender American swimmer hung in the balance Wednesday after the collegiate body governing the sport announced new rules that could impact her ability to race competitively.
Lia Thomas has dominated US collegiate women's swimming as a student athlete at the University of Pennsylvania, where just a few years earlier she had competed on the men's team.
Now, amid an uproar fueled by anger on America's conservative right, USA Swimming unveiled new guidelines that do not mention Thomas by name but will impact her swimming future — although exactly how remains unclear.
The policy said that because swimming is "an important vehicle for positive physical and mental health," it remains committed to "greater inclusivity" at the non-elite levels of the sport.
The body said it created a new set of guidelines at the elite level, however, for transgender athlete participation that "relies on science and medical evidence-based methods to provide a level-playing field for elite cisgender women, and to mitigate the advantages associated with male puberty and physiology."
USA Swimming said that a 3-member panel comprised of medical experts and a veteran athlete was being established to implement the new policy and rule on specific cases.
A key criterion that the panel will look for is that "from a medical perspective, the prior physical development of the athlete as a Male, as mitigated by any medical intervention, does not give the athlete a competitive advantage over the athlete's cisgender Female competitors."
Thomas said she began her transition in May 2019 with hormone replacement therapy — a combination of estrogen and testosterone suppressants.
Her performance has renewed a long-running debate about the fairness of a transgender woman competing against biological females.
Members of the Penn swimming team and diving team issued a statement supporting their transgender teammate.
"We want to express our full support for Lia in her transition," they said in the statement released late Tuesday, apparently after one teammate spoke out about Thomas.
"We value her as a person, teammate, and friend. 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."
FROM THE ARCHIVES