FINA announced that female trans swimmers will be able to swim in an "open" category, although it is unclear how it will work.
Last year we wrote “Reconciling sexual advantages by trans and DSD females“, reviewing some of the complex issues surrounding the participation of Trans and DSD sportspeople in terms of competitive categorization, particularly in terms of competing against women.

One of the ways we saw that the controversy could be assuaged would be “letting all of them compete for the overall triumph, keeping testosterone limits -in order to avoid hormonal doping but to levels that do not affect DSD females’ health- but recognizing the top 3 within each category.”

This means that an option could be to have DSD and trans female competitors compete against women, with a testosterone ceiling, but also recognize women that are not in this condition, perhaps with two podiums.

Part of this controversy was triggered since Lia Thomas (USA) – a trans swimmer- went from being an average swimmer in low-tier male college categories to a national-level female swimmer beating Olympic medalists within two years.

This week, FINA (the International Federation of Swimming and Aquatic Sports) approved a document (with 71% of votes in favor) where they will allow men-to-female trans swimmers, “provided they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 [which marks the start of physical development], or before age 12, whichever is later”.

Some view this policy as one that leaves the rest in limbo since they could not compete against women but also, not being men, would not compete against them. To address this, the federation announced that it intends to hold an ‘open’ category, where they could compete regardless of gender.

This could be a step forward in terms of inclusion and also protecting the competitive aspect of the female categories. The main issue, however, could be a lack of competitive participants. Would these competitions happen at World Championships? What would be the qualification standard? What if only one or two swimmers in this condition have a world-class swimming standard?

Something like a combined race with two podiums or categories would address the concern of seeing pools with only two competitors, while also recognizing these competitors’ identity as women, however, it would also entail some women would lose, for example, getting to compete in the finals.

Considering that some sports require physical contact -which could create a safety risk- the idea to hold an ‘open’ category is probably better. Let’s see at what level it is implemented and what is the outcome.