Allowing male-born swimmers like Lia Thomas to compete against women has one swimming expert drawing parallels to the bad old days of rampant doping.
John Lohn, editor-in-chief of Swimming World and author of five books on swimming, called on the NCAA to take action as Penn transgender swimmer Lia Thomas smashes records after switching from the men’s to the women’s team.
Mr. Lohn‘s column was headlined: “Without NCAA Action, the Effects of Lia Thomas Situation Are Akin to Doping.”
“Now, the NCAA needs to act, and it needs to act quickly. This scenario – with the effects of doping – cannot linger. For the good of the sport, and for fairness to those competing as biological women, a ruling must come down soon,” said Mr. Lohn in his column.
“If it doesn’t, the NCAA just doesn’t care,” he wrote.
The NCAA has remained mum as Thomas dominates her freestyle events, posting this year’s best Division I competition times in the 200- and 500-meter races, while incurring pushback from parents and teammates speaking out under condition of anonymity from fear of being canceled as transphobic.
Under the 10-year-old NCAA policy, transgender swimmers must undergo a year of testosterone-suppression treatment to qualify for women’s collegiate competition, but Mr. Lohn said the requirement has failed to create a level playing field.
“Despite the hormone suppressants she has taken, in accordance with NCAA guidelines, Thomas’ male-puberty advantage has not been rolled back an adequate amount,” Mr. Lohn said.
“The fact is, for nearly 20 years, she built muscle and benefited from the testosterone naturally produced by her body. That strength does not disappear overnight, nor with a year’s worth of suppressants,” he wrote.
As a result, he said, “Thomas dives into the water with an inherent advantage over those on the surrounding blocks.”
Without NCAA Action, the Effects of Lia Thomas Situation Are Akin to Doping - https://t.co/L09Ex95SwB pic.twitter.com/u5bLBv8FBJ— Swimming World (@SwimmingWorld) December 19, 2021
Coming to Thomas’s defense was Anne Lieberman, Athlete Ally director of policy and programs, who said the furor was part of a larger debate over “the humanity of trans folks and whether or not we deserve to participate in all aspects of life in society, and that includes college sports.”
“Trans athletes — Lia, in particular — deserve love, support, care, access to be able to swim. And Lia, like any other athlete, should be able to win and lose,” Ms. Lieberman said in a statement last week.
In a Dec. 5 letter to the NCAA, parents of some Penn female swimmers urged the collegiate sports authority to weigh in on the Thomas situation.
“It is the responsibility of the NCAA to address the matter with an official statement,” said the parents in the letter obtained by the Daily Mail. “As the governing body, it is unfair and irresponsible to leave the onus on Lia, Lia‘s teammates, Lia‘s coaches, UPenn athletics and the Ivy League.”
One parent, who asked not to be identified for fear of incurring a backlash against herself and her daughter, told the Daily Mail that the “swimmers have mixed feelings. Many of them want to speak up, but they don’t because they believe they’ll be ostracized.”
Mr. Lohn compared the Thomas situation to that of the East German women’s swimmers whose Olympic wins in the 1970s and 1980s were marred by allegations and admissions of performance-enhancing drugs.
Mr. Lohn made it clear that Thomas has not been accused of doping.
“What we are stating is this: The effects of being born a biological male, as they relate to the sport of swimming, offer Thomas a clear-cut edge over the biological females against whom she is competing,” Mr. Lohn said.
“She is stronger. It is that simple. And this strength is beneficial to her stroke, on turns and to her endurance. Doping has the same effect,” he wrote.
Lia Thomas competed for three years on the Penn men’s swimming team as Will Thomas, earning second-team All-Ivy League honors, before transitioning to female ahead of the 2021-22 season.
The Penn women’s swimming team competes next at home in a Jan. 8 meet against Dartmouth.
• Valerie Richardson can be reached at email@example.com.
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