Australian swimming champion Emily Seebohm is ‘100 per cent relieved’ biological women won’t have to compete against transgender athletes after a landmark decision was handed down – and admitted she had been afraid to speak out previously.
The international swimming federation (FINA) announced on Sunday that it was changing its policies so that transgender women can only compete in the organisation’s female races if they have completed their transition by the age of 12.
Instead an ‘open category’ will be set up for transgender athletes to compete against one another at events, including the World Aquatics Championships, World Swimming Championships, and the Swimming World Cup.
Seebohm, a four-time Olympian, said she was happy a decision had finally been made, and added many athletes had been too scared to speak up on the matter.
‘It’s such a hard topic, no one wants to be the first one to say anything because you’re scared of cancel culture,’ she told The Today Show on Monday morning.
‘That’s such a thing now, if you say one wrong thing you’re done.
‘It was a matter of once one Australian athlete said something, it was like let’s stand together because we all feel the same it’s just we were all too scared to be the first one to say anything.’
Australian swimming champion Emily Seebohm supported the decision for transgender athletes to be banned from competing against biological women
When asked by co-host Ally Langdon if she was relieved by FINA’s decision, Seebohm said ‘100 per cent’, adding she wanted the sport to be inclusive for everyone.
‘It makes it easier for the athletes knowing what’s going on, how the competition’s going to look and that the sport can continue to be fair as it can be and include everyone,’ the swimmer said.
‘I think there will probably be people that are upset with this decision but it was made by the majority of people.’
Fellow Aussie swimmer Cate Campbell also supported the decision and said in a passionate speech ‘without fair competition, sport, in its elite sense, would cease to exist’.
The international swimming federation (FINA) announced on Sunday that it is changing its policies so that transgender women can only compete in the organisation’s women’s races if they have completed their transition by the age of 12 (pictured is trans swimmer Lia Thomas)
Campbell said she wanted trans athletes to be part of the broader swimming community but said the ‘cornerstone of fairness’ needed to be upheld.
‘And it pains me, that this part of my role may injure, infuriate and, potentially, alienate people from an already marginalised (transgender) community,’ she said.
‘That men and women are physiologically different cannot be disputed.
‘Women, who have fought long and hard to be included and seen as equals in sport, can only do so because of the gender category distinction.
‘To remove that distinction would be to the detriment of female athletes everywhere.’
FINA will spend the next six months working to determine how the open category will work.
‘We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events, especially the women’s category at FINA competitions,’ FINA President Husain Al-Musallam said in a statement.
The decision will mean American trans swimmer Lia Thomas, 23, won’t be able to race against females, after she smashed records and sparked a fierce debate about whether or not trans athletes should be allowed to compete.
Fellow Aussie swimmer Cate Campbell said she wanted trans athletes to be part of the broader swimming community but said the ‘cornerstone of fairness’ needed to be upholded
Thomas transitioned in 2019 while competing for the University of Pennsylvania, and began to dominate her competition in freestyle events – prompting many to complain she has an unfair physical advantage.
Ben Fordham also weighed in on the decision on Monday, saying there was some ‘sanity at last’.
The 2GB host said if Thomas was allowed to compete at the 2024 Paris Olympics, Australia’s own swimming star Ariarne Titmus ‘probably would have been beaten’.
‘This isn’t about excluding people, it’s about fairness,’ he said on his breakfast program, noting prominent trans figure Caitlyn Jenner also labelled the matter as unfair.
‘There’s a lot of homework needed to work out how this is going to work, but it’s a start.’
FINA President Husain Al-Musallam said: ‘We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events, especially the women’s category at FINA competitions.’
The decision to ban transgender athletes from FINA events was made during the federation’s extraordinary general congress as the world championships take place in Budapest.
Members of the organization heard from a transgender task force comprising leading medical, legal and sports figures, which first convened to discuss the issue after the International Olympic Committee urged individual sports federations to create guidance on transgender athletes in November.
Lia Thomas has broken a number of records in women’s swimming for the NCAA
The policy was passed with a 71 percent majority after it was put to the members of 152 national federations with voting rights who had gathered for the congress at the Puskas Arena.
Around 15 percent voted no to the policy on eligibility in the men’s and women’s competition categories, while 13 percent abstained.
‘I do not want any athlete to be told they cannot compete at the highest level,’ Al-Musallam told a congress of his organisation today.
‘I will set up a working group to set up an open category at our meets.
‘We will be the first federation to do that.’
Last month Thomas shrugged off the concerns about her apparently unfair advantage.
She said some ‘cisgender’ women – a term used to describe someone whose gender identity is the same as the one they were given at birth – have more testosterone, bigger hands and feet, and are taller than her competitors.
Thomas also insisted that she did not transition to perform better in the pool.
‘Trans people don’t transition for athletics. We transition to be happy and authentic and to be ourselves,’ she said.
‘Transition to get an advantage is not something that factors into our decisions,’ she said.
‘I don’t need anybody’s permission to be myself.’