Canada has voted in favor of a controversial gender policy announced this week by swimming’s world governing body.
In a policy that took effect Monday, FINA allows only transgender swimmers who transition from male to female before the age of 12 to compete in women’s events.
FINA is contemplating the establishment of an open competition category.
The Canadian swimming, diving, water polo and artistic swimming federations are represented at the FINA voting level by the umbrella organization Aquatics Canada Aquatiques.
FINA stated that 71.5 percent of the votes were cast in favor of the new policy.
“Canada voted in favor of FINA’s gender inclusion policy,” President Kelly Stark-Anderson told The Canadian Press in an email on Tuesday.
“The values of inclusion and equity are fundamental in international sports competition and for us as Canadians. We believe that this policy was carefully developed and protects competitive fairness, especially in the women’s events at FINA competitions.
“We also support the work that FINA will undertake to create a new category of open competition, reflecting FINA’s commitment to inclusion.”
Canadian athletes currently compete in the biannual World Aquatic Championships in Budapest, Hungary.
The International Olympic Committee released a framework on “equity, inclusion and non-discrimination based on gender identity and sexual variation” in November, acknowledging that sex verification tests and requiring women to change their hormone levels were harmful.
The IOC has also offloaded the responsibility for determining the competitive criteria for women and whether an athlete has an unfair advantage on the field, to the international sports federations.
FINA was the first major international sports federation to restrict transgender participation after the IOC published that framework, although World Rugby banned transgender women in 2020.
“It’s interesting to see two very different sports like rugby and swimming embracing very similar trans exclusion policies,” said Michele Donnelly, an assistant professor at Brock University who specializes in gender issues and social inequality in sport.
“Between World Rugby and FINA, it feels like taking a step back and really bowing to what I hope is a minority voice that is just creating fear.”
In addition, the International Cycling Union last week tightened the rules on transgender participation by lowering the maximum allowable level of testosterone and increasing the transition period for low testosterone levels from one year to two, in order to compete.
FINA’s announcement on the Sunday after the vote came just weeks after the NCAA swimming championships in Atlanta, where transgender woman Lia Thomas won one of her three finals.
She finished fifth and eighth in the other two and did not set NCAA records.
“People who don’t care about women’s sport in any way, who have taken the issue as an opportunity to promote their transphobic platforms under the guise of fairness and competitive balance in women’s sport is so frustrating, particularly as someone that he is really invested in equality in sport and gender equality,” Donnelly said.
“These are people who say nothing when women’s sport continues to receive 2-5 per cent of all sports media coverage and less in terms of resources at all levels.”
With several US states recently legislating against the participation of trans women and girls in women’s and girls’ sports, Simon Fraser’s Professor Travers says the climate around transgender participation is worse now than when they wrote the book on 2018 “The trans generation”. How trans kids (and their parents) are creating a gender revolution.”
“I’ve interviewed a lot of trans kids,” Travers said. “Sports participation has been a real barrier for them. Many of them just feel like it’s not an option, which is a terrible thing for a child to do.
“Bans like this one on the participation of trans women and girls in sport send a chilling and harmful message to children and young people. It really indicates that you are, we are, true outsiders who don’t belong.
“The open division that FINA is proposing is deeply problematic because it will stigmatize and isolate transgender women. It’s not about inclusion, it’s about exclusion.
FINA maintains that higher testosterone levels in men from puberty onwards give them a competitive advantage in water sports.
FINA says that gender-affirming male-to-female transition procedures may mitigate some, but not all, of testosterone’s effects on body structure and muscle function “but there will be lingering inherited effects that will give transgender athletes male to female [transgender women] a relative performance advantage over biological females.
“A biological female athlete cannot overcome that advantage through training or nutrition.”
Travers doesn’t believe that.
“What is considered fair and unfair is a social decision, and the science simply does not convincingly establish that trans women have an unfair advantage,” the professor said. “FINA’s ruling is not based on sound scientific evidence.”
Donnelly, who is also a roller derby athlete in the Niagara region, served on the board of directors for the Women’s Flat Track Derby Association when it revised a gender policy that has been in place since 2015.
“I would say that roller derby was at the forefront in terms of recognizing the problems with any kind of physiology-based biological policy,” he said.
“So we finally came up with a self-declared policy that says, among other things, that if women’s flat track roller derby is the version and composition of roller derby that you most identify with, this is the place for you.
“I think it’s incredibly important as an athlete to be able to get into the space where you’re playing and to know that between your teammates and your opponents, your right to be there is recognized by everyone.”