The NCAA announced Thursday that it will not change its eligibility policies for transgender athletes ahead of the women’s swimming and diving championships March 16-19, officially clearing the way for transgender University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas to compete.
As reported by The Philadelphia Inquirer, the agency’s Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports met last week and recommended to the NCAA’s board of governors that the board not adopt a new USA Swimming policy that requires trans women swimmers to undergo at least 36 months of hormone therapy and provide evidence to a panel proving that they do not have a competitive advantage from being assigned male at birth.
That policy, released earlier this month, would have barred Thomas — a 22-year-old freestyle swimmer who currently holds the nation’s top times this year in two events — from competing, as she has been on hormone therapy for about 33 months.
“The subcommittee decided implementing additional changes at this time could have unfair and potentially detrimental impacts on schools and student-athletes intending to compete in 2022 NCAA women’s swimming championships,” the NCAA said in a statement, as reported by the Inquirer.
The announcement also comes on the heels of a letter signed by 310 current and former collegiate swimmers and sent Thursday to the NCAA uring that it not adopt the USA Swimming policy.
“With this letter, we express our support for Lia Thomas, and all transgender college athletes, who deserve to be able to participate in safe and welcoming athletic environments. We urge you to not allow political pressure to compromise the safety and wellbeing of college athletes everywhere,” the letter reads.
It was signed by five members of Penn’s swimming and diving team, marking the first public show of support from Thomas’ individual teammates. Previously, Penn swimmers had provided anonymous support for Thomas, while detractors on the team remained anonymous, as well.
In January, the NCAA announced that it would defer decisions on transgender eligibility to governing bodies on a sport-by-sport basis.
USA Swimming then announced its policy pertaining hormone therapy and a competitive-advantage review panel, leading the NCAA to take a closer look.
USA Swimming’s policy has been considered one of the strictest in the nation when it comes to eligibility requirements for transgender athletes, the Inquirer reported. On Thursday, former Olympic swimmer and lawyer Nancy Hogshead-Makar called the NCAA’s decision to sidestep the policy “spineless.”
“What was the point of the NCAA begging Sport Governing Bodies to create new eligibility rules, tailored to each sport — just to ignore them?” she wrote in an email statement, as reported by the Inquirer.
Since USA Swimming is the sport’s national governing body, the NCAA will likely adopt its policy at some point. The NCAA said Thursday that the “new policy will be part of the subcommittee’s future analysis when recommending additional updates to eligibility requirements.”