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Transgender swimmers have been banned from women's elite races. Here's what that means.

Transgender swimmers have been restricted from participating in women's elite races, following a vote from swimming's world governing body, FINA.

The decision was made during FINA's general congress on the sidelines of the world championships in Budapest on Sunday.

The new policy will require transgender competitors to complete their transition by the age of 12 in order to compete in women's competitions.

The organisation has also created a working group to establish an "open" category for transgender athletes in some events as part of its new policy.

"We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events, especially the women's category at FINA competitions," said FINA's president, Husain Al-Musallam.

"FINA will always welcome every athlete. The creation of an open category will mean that everybody has the opportunity to compete at an elite level," he said.

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The policy was passed with a roughly 71 per cent majority after it was put to the members of 152 national federations with voting rights who had gathered for the congress at the Puskas Arena.

Here's everything we know about the decision. 

What the news means for athletes like Lia Thomas.

The landmark decision means transgender swimmers like America's Lia Thomas won't be able to compete in any official women’s competition.

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Thomas became the first transgender NCAA champion in Division I history when she won the women's 500-yard freestyle in March.

University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas and Kentucky swimmer Riley Gaines finished tied for 5th in the 200 Freestyle finals at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships on March 18th, 2022. Image: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire/Getty Images. 

Speaking to Good Morning America earlier this month, the 22-year-old stressed "trans women are not a threat to women’s sports".

"Trans people don't transition for athletics. We transition to be happy and authentic and our true selves. Transitioning to get an advantage is not something that ever factors into our decisions." 

Under the new policy, Thomas, who transitioned in 2018, will no longer be able to pursue her dream and compete in the Olympics. 

How the world is reacting.

Since the news broke, athletes and advocates around the world have vocalised both their support and disappointment in the decision. 

LGBTQI+ advocacy group, Athlete Ally, were quick to condemn the decision, calling FINA’s new eligibility criteria for transgender athletes "discriminatory, harmful [and] unscientific". 

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"If we truly want to protect women’s sports, we must include all women," they wrote on Twitter.

Mama Alto, CEO of Transgender Victoria, says the decision, "is disappointing in setting a precedent for exclusion of transgender women."

"Whilst FINA has now made this decision for elite sports competitions, it is vital that community sports takes a different approach. This decision is made in the context of elite, professional, global competition - such as at Olympic level. For community sports, it’s about so much more than just competition: it’s about participation, inclusion, community-building, health and wellbeing," she wrote in a statement on Instagram.

Four-time Australian Olympic gold medallist, Cate Campbell, has shared her support for the restrictions, pointing out the importance of distinct gender categories in sport. 

"Women, who have fought long and hard to be included and seen as equals in sport, can only do so because of the gender category distinction. To remove that distinction would be to the detriment of female athletes everywhere."

That said, Campbell hopes the decision doesn't discriminate against gender-diverse children.

"It is my hope that young girls all around can continue to dream of becoming Olympic and world champions, in a female category prioritising the competitive cornerstone of fairness," she said.

"However, it is also my hope that a young gender diverse child can walk into a swimming club and feel the same level of acceptance that a nine-year-old immigrant kid from Africa did all those years ago [referencing her own experience after arriving in Australia from Malawi].”

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Four-time Olympic champion Emily Seebohm also agreed with the decision, telling The Today Show, "I'm thankful we have a decision, we have a direction...we're not saying no to transgender athletes, we're saying yes we're going to make a category for you."

But Olympic medallist Madeline Groves has condemned FINA’s decision, telling News Corp she thinks the decision is "deeply shameful."

"The decision is unscientific and goes against the IOC’s framework of fairness, inclusion and non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sex variations," she explained.

Former Olympic champion Caitlyn Jenner, who came out as transgender in 2015, has been a vocal campaigner against transgender athletes competing against cis-gendered women.

"If you go through male puberty you should not be able to take medals away from females. Period," she wrote on Twitter, welcoming the news. 

- With AAP. 

Feature Image: Rich von Biberstein/Icon Sportswire/Maddie Meyer/Getty/[email protected]_Jenner 

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