Swimming’s transgender ban: Data that proves FINA’s historic decision was the right one

After hearing certain testosterone effects simply can’t be undone, FINA’s leaders felt forced to propose a new policy effectively banning transgender women from female events.

You don’t need a science degree to understand that male swimmers have an unfair advantage over women once puberty kicks in.

It’s written right there in front of all of us - in Australian swimming’s record books and on the honour board of every swim club in the country.

Every open age world and national record that has ever been set by women has been beaten by a boy aged as young as 14 or 15.

Take your pick of whichever event you want, it’s the same story.

At the age of 14, Kyle Chalmers was faster over 50m and 100m freestyle than the fastest female sprinter of all time - Sweden’s Sarah Sjostrom.

Her 50m world record - 23.67 seconds - has been eclipsed by 4,121 male swimmers.

American Katie Ledecky, widely regarded as the best female swimmer ever, holds the top 20 times by women for 800m freestyle, including the world record (8:04.79).

But 458 male swimmers have bettered that time, including Mack Horton, who managed it when he was just 15.

It’s those performance numbers that convinced FINA’s leaders to propose a new policy effectively banning transgender women from competing in elite female events.

The data was bundled up in a detailed presentation by international scientists to delegates at last weekend’s FINA Congress in Budapest, where the groundbreaking vote to back the proposal was made.

Swimming Australia chief executive Eugenie Buckley was in the room and later told News Corp the scientific presentation was something of a lightning bolt moment for her.

“I think that performance edge presentation was the most compelling for me,” she said.

“I know the athletes spoke with emotion, and that was great, but for me, that performance edge, I was like, ‘okay, I get it now’.

The differences in performances were part of a broader presentation from the science and medical group that also touched on exercise physiology, transgender and gender fluid identification and biological sex differences in muscle fatigue and endurance performance.

The key take out that led FINA to conclude that any testosterone reduction programs were unfair was that the physical benefits males derive from puberty can’t be reversed.

“It’s called the legacy of testosterone,” FINA chief executive director Brent Nowicki told News Corp.

“So, you can’t shrink the person. There’s certain effects of testosterone that either can’t be undone or can’t fully be undone.

“Muscle mass, bone density, your height, shoulder structure, lung capacity.

“Scientists will give you the list of all those things that either you can’t undo or can’t substantially undo to the point where you eliminate the legacy effect of testosterone.”

FINA created three independent groups to shape and draft the most comprehensive - and controversial - policy on transgender participation.

But it was the weight of evidence from the scientific group that ultimately determined the direction the policy would take, because it tackled the fundamental issue that the differences in testosterone levels meant male and female athletes could never really compete as equals.

“That was sort of the foundation from which we were looking at we’re talking about fairness, what is competitive fairness and how do we ensure that the pool is competitively fair based on science,” Nowicki said.

“In a very simplistic look on the street approach is really kind of where we drew the line was, where the impact of testosterone meets between girls and boys.

“At that point, it’s arguable that the legacy effects of testosterone start to develop and you can’t undo that or you can’t undo all of that.”

The delegates only got to see the scientific evidence once they arrived at the Congress.

The vote to implement the presentation took place less than an hour and a half after the presentations were made and questions were taken from the floor.

More than 70 per cent voted yes.

Swimming Australia president Tracey Stockwell, who won three gold medals for the US at the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics when she was a teenager, wished she could have had more time to review everything, but was impressed with the depths FINA went to in order to get everything right.

“It was a good process and we commend FINA on that, the experts that they got,” she said.

“We didn’t have a lot of visibility about it but I understand why. I think to protect those experts that were doing a lot of the research and formulating the policies.”

FINA’s landmark decision has been applauded and criticised but elite athletes have mostly backed it - including swimming’s newly crowned 100m and 200m freestyle champion David Popovic.

Just 17, the Romanian said it made sense.

“It’s simply a fact that males are a little bit faster than females,” he told News Corp.

“There are sports where women are better but not in the ones where your body has to be used to its full capacity.

“That’s just how nature goes and there’s nothing wrong with that.”

Originally published as Swimming’s transgender ban: Data that proves FINA’s historic decision was the right one