Swimming-'Open category' proposal faces questions over fairness and viability


Artistic Swimming - FINA World Championships - Alfred Hajos Swimming Complex, Budapest, Hungary - June 23, 2022 Greece perform during the women team highlight REUTERS/Marton Monus

MANCHESTER, England (Reuters) - World swimming's governing body FINA is setting up a working group to look into creating an 'open category' to ensure inclusivity after voting to restrict transgender women from competing in elite women's competition.

But before the working group has even begun to consider exactly how an open category would work, the concept has already been dismissed by trans athletes.

Details of who would be eligible to compete in an 'open category' and what events such a division would feature in have yet to emerge with FINA giving itself six months to formulate a plan.

So far FINA has said that the open category would offer opportunities for athletes "without regard to their sex, their legal gender, or their gender identity"

But Veronica Ivy, trans cyclist and twice UCI Masters world champion, said the proposal was an "extreme indignity".

"FINA's choice to force trans women into an 'open' category with cisgender men is an unethical non-starter," she told Reuters in an interview.

"It is the very definition of 'separate but equal' and an extreme indignity to the women affected. Trans women are legally, socially, and medically women; we are legally, socially, and medically female.

"We ought to race with women and international sports federations need to cease placing limits on who is 'woman' or 'female' enough," she said.

So far, the only idea floated for swimming has come from the World Swimming Coaches Association, which produced a position statement before FINA's congress on Sunday.

"Through a re-categorisation process, the sport of swimming should offer an alternative competitive model which would ensure inclusion and fairness," said the statement.

Although they have not submitted a proposal to FINA, the statement suggests two options.

The first is to turn the men's category into an 'open category' alongside a protected 'female category'.

The alternative option is to have female and male categories and a third open category which would allow those not eligible or not willing to compete in the sex-based categories to enter races.

The coaches also suggested that the sport could create a Trans Division and possibly hold trans meetings.

"The Trans Females will race each other. The Trans Males will race each other. There is an argument that the Trans Males have been completely lost in this debate because they are uncompetitive in our current structure. This would also allow those of indeterminate gender to be factored into such a solution," said the statement.

But Caitlyn Jenner, who announced her transition from Olympic gold medallist Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn in 2015, has questioned whether there are enough trans athletes to make such a system viable.

"They talk about having a different division for trans athletes, there aren't enough trans athletes in the world to have another competition. Right now, I only know of one trans swimmer and that is Lia Thomas, there are just not enough people out there," she said.

Jenner suggested FINA had used the idea of an open category as a "whitewash" to soften the impact of their vote for a restrictive move -- a move the American however supports.

Trans woman motor racing driver Charlie Martin is firmly against the idea.

"It is not a solution to create an open category where trans women can be placed in limbo, effectively ending their professional careers and right to compete," she said.

The issue is likely to remain a contentious point of debate for some time however.

On Thursday, Badminton's governing body became the latest to undertake a review of its guidelines.

World Athletics and FIFA are among the governing bodies also reviewing their transgender inclusion policies.

(Reporting by Simon Evans, additional reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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