The controversy over Lia Thomas, the first transgender swimmer to win an elite college competition in the United States


they called her “the face of the debate for transgender women in sports”. She and she is also one of the most controversial athletes in America today. Lia Thomas went down in history on March 17 by becoming the first transgender person to win a US championship in Division I historyby completing the 500 yards (457 meters) in the women’s freestyle swim in 4 minutes and 33.24 seconds.

Emma Weyant, who won silver in the 400m individual medley at the Tokyo Olympics, finished 1.75 seconds behind and in second place. While Erica Sullivan was third.

But Thomas’ entire participation in one of the most important competitions of the season in his country has been peppered with controversy.

Now there are those who deny that Thomas won and They ask that Weyant be the legitimate one successful instead.

On Tuesday, March 22, just five days after the competition, the governor of the state of Florida, the Republican Ron DeSantis, signed a proclamation recognizing runner-up Weyant as the winner of the competition held in the city of Atlanta (Georgia).

The reason? The result “undermines the integrity of the competition” by allegedly allowing a transgender person to compete on an all-female team, according to DeSantis.

The governor went further and even criticized the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA, organizer of the competition) for allowing Thomas to compete.

“The NCAA is basically making efforts to destroy women’s athletics, they’re trying to undermine the integrity of the competition and they’re crowning someone else the women’s champion and we think that’s wrong,” DeSantis said.

“They’re putting ideology before opportunity for female athletes and I think there are some people who are scared to speak up and say what they’re doing, but that’s what they’re doing.”

Division I is the highest category of competition within the NCAA.

Doubts

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Thomas, on the left, came in first place. But his victory is now in doubt.

DeSantis, a controversial figure for many in the US and a strong conservative, has been harshly criticized for his handling of the pandemic by coronavirus by rejecting a mask mandate and boasting about the number of cases in Florida.

He also opposes gun control and has criticized former President Barack Obama’s immigration policies.

But when it comes to athlete Thomas, DeSantis’ position reflects the doubts of many: to what extent a transgender athlete would have an advantage over their opponents.

On Monday, World Athletics president Lord Coe issued a warning about the future of women’s sport if sports organizations get the regulations wrong for transgender athletes.

“I think the integrity of women’s sport if we don’t get it right, and indeed the future of women’s sport, is very fragile,” Coe said.

“I try to ignore them”

The controversy has not been limited only to Thomas’ victory on March 17 in Atlanta, but to his entire participation in the CNAA swimming season.

Thomas represents the University of Pennsylvania, one of eight members of the Ivy League, a group of Northeastern US universities that belong to the NCAA.

American Swimming updated its policy in February to allow transgender athletes swim in elite eventsalong with criteria that aim to reduce any unfair advantage.

In January, the Ivy League stated that “Lia and the University of Pennsylvania have worked with the NCAA to follow all appropriate protocols to comply with NCAA policy regarding the participation of transgender athletes and to compete on the women’s swimming and diving team. ”.

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Thomas has had an outstanding performance within the Ivy League since 2017.

NCAA statutes allow transgender athletes to compete as women if they have undergone testosterone suppression for a year.

But it is a complicated subject. “We should all be comfortable with who we are,” Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps recently said in an interview with journalist Christiane Amanpour on this subject.

“But I think sports should be played on equal terms. It’s hard. It’s very complicated”.

Thomas has been heavily criticized since starting hormone replacement. Her face and her statements have appeared recurrently on the Fox News television network, especially in the last month, where she calls her participation unfair.

Like DeSantis, some swimmers have criticized the decision to allow Thomas to compete.

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“I try to ignore it as much as I can,” Thomas said.

“I try to focus on my swimming, what I need to do to get ready for my races, and just try to block out everything else.”

Swimming alongside the transition

Thomas, 22, grew up in Texas, where he got into swimming when he was just 5 years old. He finished sixth in the state high school swimming championships.

He began swimming for the University of Pennsylvania men’s team in 2017. the New York Times highlights that Thomas became one of the most prominent swimmers in the Ivy League finishing second in the men’s 500, 1000 and 1650 freestyle in 2019 as a sophomore in college.

“I first realized I was trans the summer before, in 2018,” Thomas said last December during an interview on the SwimSwam podcast.

“There was a lot of uncertainty, I didn’t know what I would be able to do, if I would be able to continue swimming. So, I decided to swim the 2018-2019 year as a man, without going out, and that caused me a lot of anguish.”

In the third year, she declared herself a trans woman in front of her family and her team. She continued on the men’s team while she underwent hormone replacement. She until she finally she started swimming for the women’s team in 2021.

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Thomas has been at the center of the debate, with many seeing his involvement as unfair.

“I decided it was time to get out there and start my transition,” he said.

Thomas is not the only transgender athlete to participate in elite competitions. Natalie Fahey has competed on the Southern Illinois University women’s team after transitioning; while Schuyler Dance he was the first transgender person within Division I of the NCAA.

The controversy over Thomas has been so harsh that he has refused interviews with various media.

In one of his last statements to Sports Illustrated, Thomas expressed his desire to swim for the 2024 Olympic trials, and USA Swimming officials said they would have no problem with Thomas representing the US at the next Olympics. from Paris.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) released guidelines for sports in November regarding transgender rules in sports.

One of them is that no athlete should be excluded from competing based on an “unverified, alleged or perceived unfair competitive advantage due to their sexual variations, physical appearance and/or transgender status”.

“Athletes should be allowed to compete, but unfair advantage should be regulated.”

“I think the guidelines they established are very good. They do a very good job of promoting inclusivity while maintaining competitive integrity,” Thomas told SwimSwam.


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