The success of a transgender US college swimmer is a disturbing microcosm of a broader threat

The response to the domination of transgender US college swimmer Lia Thomas proves that female athletes are facing a very real threat from male-born rivals. Suggesting anything otherwise is downright dangerous.

Competing in a debut season as a member of the women’s team at the University of Pennsylvania, trans swimmer Thomas has proceeded to blow her rivals out of the water.

A host of records have tumbled. In one particularly embarrassing episode, the 22-year-old former man beat a female-born teammate by 38 seconds at a race meet in Ohio last weekend.

Thomas pictured before transitioning. © Twitter / Penn State University

After dishing out one beatdown in the pool, Thomas is alleged to have bragged: “That was so easy, I was cruising.”

Then known as ‘Will’, Thomas spent three years on the Penn men’s team before transitioning.

At least in the swimming pool, she has rarely looked back since.

More record-breaking feats seem likely before season is out, and Thomas is unabashed in the face of any criticism.

“I’m proud of my times, my ability to keep swimming and to continue competing,” Thomas told this week.

“They’re suited up times. I’m happy with them and my coaches are happy with them.  

Restricted to US college sport, the splash surrounding Thomas might seem minor – but in reality, it says much about how those in power are negligently turning a blind eye to the harm being done.

That damage starts with Thomas’ teammates. They are said to have been “strongly advised” not to talk to the media about the situation, even though some are clearly upset.

That policy is typical among advocates for the unfettered rights of trans athletes: stifle any debate, ignore any evidence, and slander any critics.    

Thomas competed as Will before becoming Lia. © Instagram / Facebook

Nonetheless, at least two UPenn swimmers have bravely spoken out – albeit on condition of anonymity for fear of backlash from the university or activists.

“Honestly, this is so upsetting to us because we want to be acknowledged for our hard work, but it seems like this just keeps overshadowing us,” one swimmer told OutKick.

“Put Lia out of the picture, we have a really good team this year. We have one of the best teams we’ve had in years, and that’s being overshadowed…

“We train every single day and give up so much for this sport. And I love swimming. I do it because I love it. It’s been a part of my life forever, and this is a slap in the face that the NCAA doesn’t care about the integrity of women’s sports.”

That’s exactly it: a sucker punch for women’s college sports. Yet all the while, the authorities appear to be blindly sticking to the line that Thomas is eligible to compete.

NCAA rules state that trans women are free to do so, provided they have completed one year of testosterone suppression treatment.

That requirement of 12 months has already been questioned by some – including in a British Journal of Sports Medicine paper published in December 2020.

Thomas is said to be two-and-a-half years into hormone replacement therapy, but some have wondered whether any amount of testosterone suppression is enough to reverse the inherent benefits that passing through puberty as a male can confer.

Shamefully, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has stuck its head back in the sand on the debate over trans participation in sport.

New guidelines in November suggested that testosterone reduction should not be an automatic requirement for trans women, while passing the buck to individual sports to make decisions on where the line should be drawn – if at all.

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Transgender athlete Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand competed at the Tokyo Olympics. © Reuters
Trans athletes can compete with females without reducing testosterone – IOC

Commenting on the situation at UPenn, Sports science specialist Ross Tucker said: “This is a volatile situation that will only get worse and expand.

“It’s happened because those in charge have ignored the science (and often the law) and failed to protect women’s rights. But instead of fixing it, they bow to threats and advise those directly affected to stay silent.”

Meanwhile, Thomas’ teammates and rivals from other colleges are the ones losing out.

“Pretty much everyone individually has spoken to our coaches about not liking this,” a source told OutKick.

“Our coach [Mike Schnur] just really likes winning. He’s like most coaches. I think secretly everyone just knows it’s the wrong thing to do.” 

Thomas will keep on winning in the pool – but at what cost to women’s college sports in the US?

By Liam Tyler   

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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