Transgender swimmers will be included in new 'open category' trial for races

Transgender swimmers will eventually be able to compete in a new category set up by the sport's world governing body.

World Aquatics president Husain Al-Musallam announced Tuesday that a trial run for a “open category” will be held for future races and that would include transgender competitors. He did not offer a timetable on when it would begin, though.

“This is a very complex topic,” Al-Musallam said at the World Aquatics Congress in Fukuoka, Japan, per the Associated Press. “But I am delighted to tell you today that we are now making plans for the first trial of an open category, and we hope to be able to confirm all the details soon.

“Our sport must be open to everybody,”

This idea was broached in 2022 after World Aquatics, formally known as FINA, restricted transgender participation to those who have completed their transition by age 12. This ruling trickled down to collegiate races after the NCAA said it would defer to national and international governing bodies on the subject.

That decision did not affect Penn swimmer Lia Thomas, who became the first transgender woman to win an NCAA title in 2022. She won the women's 500-meter freestyle race after she competed on the men's team in previous years. Thomas met the NCAA's standards for testosterone suppression therapy for more than two years before joining the women's team.

Thomas did say she wanted to continue swimming professionally after college, though, which included the 2024 Olympic trials. So while it's unclear if she would be allowed to do so in the sport's current form, perhaps an "open category" would pave the way for her and other transgender swimmers to compete without controversy.

“It was very important that we protected fair competition for our female athletes,” Al-Musallam said. "But you have heard me say many times there should be no discrimination. Nobody should be excluded from our competitions.”

While swimming is making an attempt to create a separate category, other organizations have not.

World Athletics, the governing body of track and field, banned transgender athletes from track events earlier this year and reduced its testosterone threshold for all events.

The United States House of Representatives also passed a bill which would prevent male-born transgender athletes from competing on women's sports teams with federal funding. It's unlikely the bill would pass through the Democrat-controlled Senate and President Joe Biden already said he would veto the bill if it did. Texas governor Gregg Abbott also signed a bill in June that would require transgender women to compete on men’s teams and transgender men to play on women’s teams.