‘Open category’ proposal faces questions of fairness and viability

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MANCHESTER — World swimming governing body FINA is setting up a working group to look into creating an “open category” to ensure inclusiveness following a vote to ban transgender women from elite women’s competition.

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But even before the working group began to consider how exactly the open category would work, trans athletes had already rejected this concept.

Details on who will be eligible to compete in the “open category” and what competitions such a unit will compete in have yet to surface as FINA has given itself six months to come up with a plan.

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So far, FINA has said that the open category will offer opportunities to athletes “regardless of their gender, their legal gender, or their gender identity.”

But Veronica Ivey, a trans cyclist and two-time UCI Masters world champion, called the offer “the ultimate insult.”

“FINA’s decision to force trans women into an ‘open’ category along with cisgender men is an unethical decision,” she told Reuters in an interview.

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“This is the very definition of “separate but equal” and the ultimate humiliation for the affected women. Trans women are legally, socially and medically women; we are legally, socially and medically women.

“We have to race with women, and international sports federations have to stop setting limits on who is a “woman” or “female,” she said.

So far, the only idea for swimming has come from the World Swimming Coaches Association, which issued a position statement before the FINA congress on Sunday.

“Through the reclassification process, swimming should offer an alternative competitive model that would ensure inclusiveness and fairness,” the statement said.

While they did not submit proposals to FINA, the statement suggests two options.

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First, make the male category “open” along with the protected “female category”.

The alternative is to have women’s and men’s categories and a third open category that would allow those who are not eligible or unwilling to compete in gender-based categories to race.

Coaches also suggested that the sport could create a trans division and possibly host trans meetings.

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“Trans women will compete with each other. Trans men will compete against each other. There is an argument that trans men are completely lost in this debate because they are not competitive in our current structure. This will also allow for persons of indeterminate gender to be taken into account in such a decision,” the statement said.

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But Caitlyn Jenner, who announced her transition from Olympian Bruce Jenner to Caitlyn in 2015, wonders if there are enough trans athletes to make such a system viable.

“They are talking about another division for trans athletes, there are not enough trans athletes in the world to host another competition. Right now I only know one trans swimmer and that’s Leah Thomas, there’s just not a lot of people there,” she said.

Jenner suggested that FINA used the idea of ​​an open category as a “whitewash” to soften the impact of its vote for the restrictive move – a move that the American, however, supports.

Trans woman racing driver Charlie Martin is strongly opposed to the idea.

“Creating an open category in which trans women can find themselves in limbo, effectively depriving them of their professional careers and their right to compete, is not a solution,” she said.

However, this issue is likely to remain a subject of controversy for some time to come.

On Thursday, badminton’s governing body became the latest to review its rules.

World Athletics and FIFA are among the governing bodies that are also reviewing their inclusion policies for transgender people. (Reporting by Simon Evans, additional reporting by Srivatsa Sridhar; editing by Ken Ferris)

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