UPenn Women Swimmers Call Male Participation ‘Unfair’

Lia Thomas of the Pennsylvania Quakers after finishing a freestyle event during a tri-meet against the Yale Bulldogs and the Dartmouth Big Green at the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia, Pa., January 8, 2022. (Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

Sixteen swimmers on the University of Pennsylvania women’s team sent a letter to the school and the Ivy League on Thursday calling it unfair that transgender teammate Lia Thomas is allowed to compete in the female category.

“We fully support Lia Thomas in her decision to affirm her gender identity and to transition from a man to a woman. Lia has every right to live her life authentically,” the letter, obtained by the Washington Post, read. “However, we also recognize that when it comes to sports competition, that the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone’s gender identity. Biologically, Lia holds an unfair advantage over competition in the women’s category, as evidenced by her rankings that have bounced from #462 as a male to #1 as a female. If she were to be eligible to compete against us, she could now break Penn, Ivy, and NCAA Women’s Swimming records; feats she could never have done as a male athlete.”

After competing in the men’s swimming division for three seasons, Thomas adopted a female name after transitioning and joined the women’s team. Since then, Thomas has been smashing records, technically boasting the title of the No. 1 female swimmer in the nation, with the fastest 500-yard female freestyle in the country and the all-time record for the Penn women’s team.

In their plea to the administrators, the grievanced swimmers complained that Thomas is stealing “competitive opportunities” from them, specifically at the Ivy League championship meet, for which recruitment is very selective.

Nancy Hogshead-Makar, a 1984 Olympic swimming gold medalist and women’s sports activist, sent the letter on behalf of the girls, she told the Post in an interview.

The swimmers said in the letter that they feared “we would be removed from the team or that we would never get a job offer” if they asked Thomas to be barred from competing on the women’s team.

They also asked UPenn and the Ivy League to refrain from launching litigation over the NCAA’s updated guidelines for transgender participation, which defers decision-making on the issue to the respective governing bodies for each sport. USA Swimming followed up by issuing a new policy stipulating hormone-suppression requirements for transgender athletes.

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