Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas loses challenge barring her from elite women's swimming races

Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas lost her challenge against the Court of Arbitration of Sport in Switzerland — the world’s top court in matters of sporting fairness — to overturn the rules of World Aquatics that prevent transgender women from competing in women’s divisions. The judge ruled Thomas did not have standing to bring the case.

World Aquatics, which sets rules that inform elite competitions, including the Olympics, introduced a new gender policy in June 2022, allowing transgender women to compete in women’s events only if they transitioned before the age of 12 or before one of the early stages of puberty. The ruling excludes transgender women who underwent male puberty, like Thomas, from participating in women’s races.

Thomas began transitioning using hormone replacement therapy in May 2019. She attended the University of Pennsylvania and swam on the men’s team from the 2017-18 to 2019-20 seasons. By 2021, Thomas met the NCAA hormone therapy requirements to swim on Penn’s women’s team and did so for the 2020-21 and 2021-22 seasons.

Thomas became the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I title when she won the women’s 500-yard freestyle event in March 2022. She has said she has ambitions to compete in the Olympics.

World Aquatics introduced an “open” category for athletes who were not assigned female at birth, but said the division did not get any entries at the first event of the 2023 Swimming World Cup in Berlin in October.

In Thomas’ challenge against the CAS, she sought an order from the court declaring the “challenged provisions are unlawful, invalid and of no force and effect,” the CAS said in a statement on Jan. 26 that paraphrased her position.

Thomas’ representation, Tyr LLC in Toronto, did not immediately respond to a request for comment. Thomas called the CAS decision “deeply disappointing” in a statement from her legal team, according to Athlete Ally.

“Blanket bans preventing trans women from competing are discriminatory and deprive us of valuable athletic opportunities that are central to our identities,” she said. “The CAS decision should be seen as a call to action to all trans women athletes to continue to fight for our dignity and human rights.”

Swimming is one of many sports to implement policies for transgender athletes amid wide debate about inclusion and competitive fairness. Last year, the governing bodies for track and field as well as cycling ruled that transgender women could not compete in women’s events. The International Cycling Union made its decision in July, after the American Austin Killips became the first openly transgender woman to win one of its cycling events.

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 (Photo: Mike Comer / NCAA Photos via Getty Images)

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