The NCAA announced new policies governing transgender athletes in college sports on Wednesday.
The announcement comes as Lia Thomas, a transgender swimmer formerly known as Will Thomas, dominates Division 1 women’s swimming for the University of Pennsylvania, sparking outrage and claims of unfairness from Thomas’ competitors and teammates.
The NCAA said in a statement that it is opting for a “sport-by-sport approach” to rules governing the participation of transgender athletes. The main governing body of collegiate sports stated that, effective immediately, the standards for transgender athletes in college sports would be set by the national governing body of a sport or by the International Olympic Committee (IOC).
The new approach “aligns transgender student-athlete participation for college sports with recent policy changes from the United States Olympic and Paralympic Committee and International Olympic Committee,” the NCAA said.
“We are steadfast in our support of transgender student-athletes and the fostering of fairness across college sports,” NCAA board chairman and president of Georgetown University John DeGioia said in a statement. “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.”
The IOC overhauled its guidelines for the participation of transgender athletes in sports in November, announcing a slew of new rules and objectives for national and sport-specific governing bodies to apply when crafting standards for transgender athletes.
The November guidelines replaced 2015 rules that stated that the testosterone levels in transgender women must measure below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least a year prior to competing. The IOC developed its new guidelines after believing its 2015 guidance to be outdated.
Thomas competed in men’s Division 1 swimming at the University of Pennsylvania until transitioning and applying to compete as a female in the summer of 2020. Thomas has since dominated the university’s women’s swimming team, holding top records for the 2021-2022 season in at least six events.
“In early December, Thomas utterly crushed the women competing with Thomas at the University of Akron’s Zippy Invitational, winning the 1650 free by a gargantuan 38 seconds ahead of the young woman finishing second, winning the 500 free by a whopping twelve seconds ahead of the woman finishing second, and winning the 200 free by a still-huge seven seconds, setting new Penn records along with meet and pool records,” The Daily Wire reported.
Thomas lost a January 8 race to another transgender competitor, Yale swimmer Iszac Henig, formerly known as Izzi Henig. Henig is biologically female, identifies as male, and has undergone a mastectomy, but held off on taking hormones in order to continue to compete on the women’s swim team. Thomas swam a time several seconds off his previous time in his loss to Henig. One of Thomas’ teammates has alleged that Thomas and Henig intentionally threw the race.
“I was on deck and said to a friend, ‘She’s literally not trying.’ You could just tell. It was blatantly obvious. I was watching the 200 free and she was literally keeping pace with the other girls,” one of Thomas’ teammates said.
“[Thomas] was No. 1 in the country at one point,” she continued. “These are definitely talented swimmers, but they’re not the caliber of being at the top in the country or anything like that. … You can tell when someone is dying and they’re swimming slow. You can also tell when someone is not trying and I could see [in the 200 freestyle] that Lia was not trying.”