Lia Thomas – born male and formerly known as Will Thomas – is challenging the World Aquatics’ recent policy change prohibiting men from competing in women’s swimming competitions.
World Aquatics is the international federation recognized by the International Olympic Committee for administering aquatics competitions, including the World Aquatics World Championships, World Cups, Grand Prix, World Leagues and World Series events and tournaments. It provides rules and regulations for Swimming, Open Water Swimming, Diving, Water Polo, Artistic Swimming and High Diving.
Thomas is challenging the World Aquatics’ Policy on the Eligibility for the Men’s and Women’s Competition Categories.
In its policy, World Aquatics provides reasoning for why its sports have historically been separated into men’s and women’s competitions. It notes that biological separation reflects the sports’ commitment to:
- Ensuring equal opportunity for both male and female athletes to participate and succeed in the sport.
- Ensuring competitive fairness and physical safety within its competition categories.
- Developing the sport and promoting its popular appeal and commercial value.
“Because of the performance gap that emerges at puberty between biological males as a group and biological females as a group, separate sex competition is necessary for the attainment of these objectives,” the policy says, adding,
Without eligibility standards based on biological sex or sex-linked traits, we are very unlikely to see biological females in finals, on podiums, or in championship positions; and in sports and events involving collisions and projectiles, biological female athletes would be a greater risk of injury.
For the forgoing reasons, World Aquatics wisely prohibits men who have “experienced any part of male puberty” from competing against women.
Thomas has filed a “request for arbitration” in The Court of Arbitration for Sports (CAS), headquartered in Lausanne, Switzerland, which was established in 1984 to settle disputes related to sports through mediation.
According to a press release issued by CAS (which incorrectly refers to Thomas using female pronouns),
Thomas submits that the Challenged Provisions are invalid and unlawful as they discriminate against [him] contrary to the Olympic Charter, the World Aquatics Constitution, and Swiss law including the European Convention on Human Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
“In bringing the matter before CAS, Thomas seeks an order from the CAS declaring that the Challenged provisions are unlawful, invalid, and of no force and effect,” the press release states.
Arbitration proceedings began in September 2023, but are only now being made public.
Thomas has previously and consistently bested his female competition in numerous swim races – including in the NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming 500-yard freestyle championship race.
On March 17, 2022, Thomas out-touched his female competition and was awarded first place ahead of Emma Weyant, Erica Sullivan and Brooke Ford, who were awarded “second, third and fourth” places at the NCAA Championships. Weyant had even swam a career best, shaving over two seconds off her time.
Additionally, “In a November 2021 meet against Princeton and Cornell, Thomas won the 100-, 200- and 500-yard freestyle events, setting program records for the UPenn team. At the Zippy Invitational in Akron, Ohio, Thomas finished the 1,650-yard freestyle race 38 seconds ahead of the second-place finisher.”
Thomas has expressed interest in trying out for the U.S. Olympic team – he would be prohibited from doing so under the World Aquatics’ regulations.
“It’s been a goal of mine to swim at Olympic trials for a very long time,” Thomas told Good Morning America last year. “I would love to see that through.”
According to the Daily Wire, “Thomas’ case before the CAS is unlikely to be heard before USA Swimming hosts its trials for the 2024 Olympics in June.”
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