A group of more than a dozen students on the University of Pennsylvania women’s swimming team are urging their school not to challenge USA Swimming’s new policy regulating the participation of trans-identified athletes, which they maintain will “prioritize fairness for biological women” in sports.
Retired Olympic swimmer Nancy Hogshead-Makar wrote a letter to the University of Pennsylvania and the Ivy League Thursday on behalf of 16 athletes on UPenn’s women’s swimming team and their family members. The 16 athletes, who elected to remain anonymous, account for slightly less than half of the team’s membership. The Ivy League school has received extensive attention after Lia Thomas, a male swimmer (formerly named Will Thomas), who self-identifies as female, began dominating women’s swimming competitions.
Thomas’ record-shattering performances have occurred at a time when the U.S. is engaged in a debate over whether allowing men, who self-identify as female, to compete on women-only sports teams gives them an unfair advantage.
The letter outlined some of the biological differences between men and women in an effort to make the case that an individual’s biological sex should supersede their chosen gender identity as the determining factor for which gender-exclusive sports teams they compete on.
“We … recognize that when it comes to sports competition, that the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone’s gender identity,” they wrote. “Biologically, Lia holds an unfair advantage over competition in the women’s category, as evidenced by [his] rankings that have bounced from # 462 as a male to # 1 as a female. If [he] were to be eligible to compete against us, [he] could now break Penn, Ivy, and NCAA Women’s Swimming records; feats [he] could never have done as a male athlete.”
The swimmers elaborated further on the impact that Thomas’ presence on the team has had on their athletic careers: “The Penn Women’s Swimming Team has over 40 women, but only 18 of us are chosen to compete in the end-of-year culmination of our work: the Ivy Championships. Most important to us is that Lia’s inclusion with unfair biological advantages means that we have lost competitive opportunities. Some of us have lost records.”
“But even those that swim different events than Lia or were not in contention to make the Ivy Championships, we stand by our teammates who have lost out,” they added. “It has often felt like Penn, our school, our league, and the NCAA did not support us.”
Additionally, the athletes noted that they “have trained up to 20 hours a week, swimming miles, running and lifting weights.” They described the experience of being “sidelined or beaten by someone competing with the strength, height, and lung capacity advantages that can only come with male puberty” as “exceedingly difficult.”
The letter comes after USA Swimming, which oversees competitive swimming in the U.S., unveiled an “Athlete Inclusion, Competitive Equity and Eligibility Policy.” The policy includes an “Elite Athlete/Event Fairness Evaluation” designed to ensure that “athletes competing in the Female competition category who have transitioned from a Male biological gender assignment at birth, do not have an unfair advantage over their cisgender Female competitors in Elite Events.”
Specifically, a biologically male athlete seeking to compete on a women’s swimming team will have to “submit an Elite Athlete/Event Fairness Application,” which will be reviewed by a panel of three medical experts, to the USA Swimming director. The medical experts will determine if “the prior physical development of the athlete as a Male, as mitigated by any medical intervention, does not give the athlete a competitive advantage over the athlete’s cisgender Female competitors.”
In general, biologically male swimmers seeking to compete on women’s teams will have to prove that they have had consistently low testosterone levels for the three-year period leading up to the application and will have to maintain such levels if their application to compete on the women’s swimming team is approved.
The signatories of the letter to the University of Pennsylvania expressed support for USA Swimming’s new policy and urged the Ivy League school not to pursue litigation in an attempt to challenge the new rules: “We, 16 members of the Penn’s Women’s Swimming Team and our family members, thank USA Swimming, for listening to our request to prioritize fairness for biological women in our elite competitions.”
“We ask that Penn and the Ivy League support us as biological women, and not engage in legal action with the [National Collegiate Athletics Association] to challenge these new Athlete Inclusion Policies.”
The swimmers indicated that fear of retaliation from the University of Pennsylvania or potential employers played a role in their decision to remain anonymous: “We have been told that if we spoke out against [Thomas’] inclusion into women’s competitions, that we would be removed from the team or that we would never get a job offer. When media have tried to reach us, these journalists have been told that the coaches and athletes were prohibited from talking to them.”
While individual members of the Penn swim team are privately and anonymously expressing concern about Thomas’ continued competition on the women’s swimming team, the team as a whole has publicly supported the athlete. In a statement released Tuesday, members of the Penn women’s swimming and diving team indicated a desire to “express our full support for Lia in her transition.”
“The sentiments put forward by an anonymous member of our team are not representative of the feelings, values and opinions of the entire Penn team, composed of 39 women with diverse backgrounds,” the statement read.
Tuesday’s statement, published before the 16 athletes wrote a letter to the University of Pennsylvania and the Ivy League, followed previous reporting from the sports website OutKick documenting Penn swimmers’ concerns about Thomas’ continued competition on the women’s swimming team.
Hogshead-Makar is the founder of Champion Women, which “provides legal advocacy for girls and women in sports.” Several similar advocacy organizations have popped up in recent years, including Women’s Liberation Front, which keeps track of laws passed at the state level to prevent trans-identified males from competing in women’s sports. According to the feminist group, nine states have passed such laws: Alabama, Arkansas, Florida, Idaho, Mississippi, Montana, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia.
Ryan Foley is a reporter for The Christian Post. He can be reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org