APU Original Sports

Governing Bodies Rule on Transgender Athlete Participation 

By Craig T. Bogar, Ed.D.
Associate Professor of Sports Management, School of Health Sciences 

The participation of transgender athletes in competitions this year has put the sports world in an upheaval. The most visible instance of transgender participation in sports was Lia Thomas, a biological male, who swam for the women’s team of the University of Pennsylvania.

Thomas had previously competed on the men’s swim team for three seasons. Thomas made headlines for breaking records competing against women and taking home an NCAA Division I title at the NCAA championships in March.

Several of Thomas’ teammates spoke out about the situation on the condition of anonymity. One female Penn swimmer told the Washington Examiner that Thomas “compares herself to Jackie Robinson” and “mocks” competing on the women’s team.

In addition, a teammate told the Daily Mail that Thomas makes the women’s locker room uncomfortable. One swimmer said, “It’s definitely awkward because Lia still has male body parts and is still attracted to women.”

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Transgender Athlete Rules Vary by Organization

In the past few months, other sports organizations have established various policies in regard to transgender athletes. In June, for instance, the international governing body for swimming, Fédération Internationale de Natation (FINA), announced its decision to ban transgender athletes from competing in women’s elite events. The new policy would require transgender swimmers to have completed their transition by 12 years old to compete in women’s competitions and maintain their circulating testosterone levels below 2.5 nanomoles per liter (nmol/L).

In July, British Triathlon announced that transgender athletes at the elite and grassroots levels would participate in an “open” category.

In August, the World Triathlon Executive Board approved its transgender policy. According to the Townhall website, “the new policy allows biological male athletes who identify as ‘transgender’ to compete in the women’s category.”

The new policy from World Triathlon states that “To compete in the female category in an Elite or Age-Group triathlon competition, a Transgender athlete must demonstrate that the concentration of testosterone in the athlete’s serum has been less than 2.5 nmol/L continuously for a period of at least 24 months. Also, at least 48 months must have elapsed since the Transgender athlete has competed as a male in any sporting competition.”

World Triathlon said that the triathlon policy was approved after a period of consultation with several committees and “multiple experts in the field and the transgender community.”

World Triathlon’s policy goes against recent decisions from the governing bodies of other sports. In June, the International Rugby League (IRL) issued a statement banning biological male “transgender” athletes from playing in women’s international matches. The statement added that the IRL would work on a “transwoman inclusion policy” next year.

In the United States, to date, 18 states have enacted measures that require athletes to participate on a sports team that aligns with their biological sex rather than their gender identity. As transgender athlete participation in sports continues to increase, it’s clear that sport governing bodies are attempting to create policies that are both fair and manageable.

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About the Author 

Dr. Craig Bogar earned his Doctor of Education degree in sports management from the United States Sports Academy in 2010.  He is also a former dean of student services and adjunct faculty member at the Academy.

Dr. Bogar also worked for several years as an adjunct faculty member and project coordinator in family medicine at the University of South Alabama in Mobile. He also served as director of athletics at the University of Mobile and at Loyola University New Orleans, where he served as athletic director from 1991 to 1999. He coached track and swimming respectively at those institutions.

Dr. Bogar earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Bryant University and his master’s in recreation from the University of Maryland College Park. In 2019, he was inducted into the Athletics Hall of Fame at Loyola University New Orleans. In 2022, Dr. Bogar received the Commencement Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Teaching for the School of Health Sciences. 

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