Lia Thomas retires from competitive swimming, critics say biological men have advantage

Previously competing as a man at the University of Pennsylvania’s swim team, transgender athlete Lia Thomas retired from swimming after slaying the competition as a woman.

Thomas made the surprising and emotional announcement in a statement that highlights the “isolation” and “discrimination” she’s experienced, while other competitors say her participation in women’s events is “grossly unfair” that sport “allows biological men to compete against women.”

Online users are showing no sympathy for Thomas, saying that the women are now being oppressed by “males walking amongst us in dresses and makeup.”

“Nobody wants me on their team,” said swimmer Lia Thomas, who’s has been at the center of explosive debates surrounding the participation of transgender athletes in women’s sports.

As a transgender athlete, Thomas has been the topic of extensive discussions on equity, gender, and the integrity of competition in women’s sports.

In a statement, Thomas reveals that her decision to retire follows “the challenges” that have been “more emotional than physical, stemming from the ongoing struggle to find acceptance and fairness in a sport I hold dear. No athlete should experience isolation or discrimination based on their identity rather than being celebrated for their accomplishments.”

Critics and other athletes her inclusion is unfair.

Over the past several years, Thomas’ fellow competitors have held petitions or dropped out of events. Critics site the unfair arena of a woman having to compete against a biological man, who despite transitional surgeries, is still equipped with “larger lung capacity, larger hearts, greater circulation, a bigger skeleton, and less fat.”

In 2021, Cynthia Millen resigned her position as a USA Swimming official saying that she can’t stand by and watch as girls are “thrown under the bus” by “biological” male competitors.

“The fact is that swimming is a sport in which bodies compete against bodies. Identities do not compete against identities,” Millen said. “Men are different from women, men swimmers are different from women, and they will always be faster than women.”

For two seasons up until 2019, Thomas first competed as a man at the University of Pennsylvania.

Millen said that she felt the transgender athlete’s record-setting dominance of collegiate women’s swimming was grossly unfair, writing that she can “no longer participate in a sport that allows biological men to compete against women.”

NCAA rules dictate that transgender players must partake in one year of testosterone suppression before they can compete as women.

But, Millen argues, “While Lia Thomas is a child of God, he is a biological male who is competing against women. And no matter how much testosterone suppression drugs he takes, he will always be a biological male and have the advantage.”

Adding that Thomas will destroy women’s swimming, Millen explained, “USA swimming recognizes that boys swim differently from girls.”

In the 2022 NCAA Women’s Championships, Thomas dominated in the water against women, capturing the NCAA title in the 500 freestyle.

A group of competitive swimmers, long-time head coach and USA Swimming national team director Frank Busch, along with 2008 Olympian Lacey Nymeyer, sent a letter to the NCAA Board of Governors, questioning the fairness of Thomas’ participation. The letter addresses the collegiate governing body that “successfully failed everyone” and caused “irrevocable damage” to the sport by allowing Thomas to compete against cisgender women while trying to “appease everyone.”

Also in 2022, Thomas, who earlier expressed interest in competing for a place at the Olympics, was denied by World Aquatics, formerly FINA, the committee overseeing international aquatics.

Blocking her participation, the group is establishing an “open” category for transgender athletes in some events. Its new policy aims to balance inclusivity while ensuring there is no unfair advantage.

According to Reuters, “the new eligibility policy for FINA competitions states that male-to-female transgender athletes are eligible to compete only if ‘they can establish to FINA’s comfortable satisfaction that they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 (of puberty) or before age 12, whichever is later.”

Retirement
Responding to the protests, petitions and other disputes, Thomas disclosed challenges faced by transgender athletes, on and off the proverbial field, in her journey through scrutiny, policy debates, and ethical considerations.

Some supporters suggest her retirement from professional swimming represents a significant loss for the sport and underscores the need for a more inclusive approach to athletes and identity.

Now, the sports world is faced with the challenge of examining the ethical, biological, and societal aspects of transgender athletes while determining how Thomas’ involvement and withdrawal will shape the future of competitive sports.

The general population, however, say “good riddance” to her retirement.

One writes that the “patriarchy” is now in the form of men in “dresses and makeup.”

“Such an insult to biological women. Women have worked so hard to get to where we are in society today and our privileges are being revoked from us left and right.” The post continues, “It’s also quite ironic that you don’t see any transgender males doing this, it’s only transgender women trying to oppress biological women. The oppression of women from the patriarchy is very much not over, only now our biggest enemies are males walking amongst us in dresses and makeup.”

Another netizen shares, “I don’t understand how people can possibly support you and what you are saying. Women have fought for YEARS to be equally represented in sports, and finally women have high level of competition and then a biological male takes the title of a championship?” The post continues, “You were born with a major physical advantage over women, and yet you feel you are entitled to be able to compete in the same category.”

Thomas’ decision to retire serves as a reminder to reflect on the opportunities, acceptance, and spaces available to athletes, regardless of their gender identity, and those who identify as transgender.

The burning question here is can inclusivity and fairness be harmonized without disrupting traditional sport or excluding cisgender athletes?

And how many new categories will have to be added to make international sport more inclusive?

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