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Providing fairness in sport

Published on January 20th, 2022

The International Olympic Committee granted Sailing its first women’s event at the 1988 Games, beginning a trend of creating greater opportunity for women in the sport.

Gender-based sports exist to provide fairness where gender provides a competitive advantage, but the increase of transgender athletes has put into question what is fair.

University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, who is transgender, this winter recorded the top times in the country in the 200-yard and 500-yard women’s freestyle. Thomas had previously competed for three years on the men’s swimming team.

Since the impact of gender varies among different sports, college sports has enacted a new policy to address the issue. Here’s the statement from the National Collegiate Athletic Association:

The NCAA Board of Governors on January 19, 2022 voted in support of a sport-by-sport approach to transgender participation that preserves opportunity for transgender student-athletes while balancing fairness, inclusion and safety for all who compete.

The new policy, effective immediately, aligns transgender student-athlete participation for college sports with recent policy changes from the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and International Olympic Committee.

Like the Olympics, the updated NCAA policy calls for transgender participation for each sport to be determined by the policy for the national governing body of that sport, subject to ongoing review and recommendation by the NCAA Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports to the Board of Governors.

If there is no National Governing Bodies (NGB) policy for a sport, that sport’s international federation policy would be followed. If there is no international federation policy, previously established IOC policy criteria would be followed.

The Board of Governors urged the divisions to provide flexibility to allow for additional eligibility if a transgender student-athlete loses eligibility based on the policy change provided they meet the newly adopted standards.

The policy is effective starting with the 2022 winter championships. Transgender student-athletes will need to document sport-specific testosterone levels beginning four weeks before their sport’s championship selections.

Starting with the 2022-23 academic year, transgender student-athletes will need documented levels at the beginning of their season and a second documentation six months after the first. They will also need documented testosterone levels four weeks before championship selections. Full implementation would begin with the 2023-24 academic year.

“We are steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports,” said John DeGioia, chair of the board and Georgetown president. “It is important that NCAA member schools, conferences and college athletes compete in an inclusive, fair, safe and respectful environment and can move forward with a clear understanding of the new policy.”

“Approximately 80% of U.S. Olympians are either current or former college athletes,” said Mark Emmert, NCAA president. “This policy alignment provides consistency and further strengthens the relationship between college sports and the U.S. Olympics.”

Additionally, the NCAA’s Office of Inclusion and the Sport Science Institute released the Gender Identity and Student-Athlete Participation Summit Final Report. The report assists ongoing membership efforts to support inclusion, fairness, and the mental and physical health of transgender and non-binary student-athletes in collegiate sport.

The Board of Governors were meeting as part of the 2022 NCAA Convention in Indianapolis, IN.

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