The Swimming World Cup will unveil a groundbreaking “open” category for the first time in its Berlin events this October. The introduction of this new classification allows swimmers from all sex and gender identities to participate.
This decision follows a move by World Aquatics last year, when it restricted transgender women from competing in elite female categories. In response, they assured the introduction of an open category ensuring fair opportunities for all swimmers, irrespective of their sex and gender identities.
50m and 100m races will be conducted across all strokes in this new category. With the open category’s debut being closely linked to the performance of transgender swimmer Lia Thomas in major US university events, it raises questions about previous rules and the potential for fair competition in women’s categories.
World Aquatics describes the Berlin event as a “pioneering pilot project”, hinting at the addition of new events in the future. They also emphasised their commitment to inclusivity, promising to clarify entry requirements and qualifying times soon.
German Swimming Federation’s Vice President, Kai Morgenroth, expressed pride in hosting an event that promotes inclusivity and the breaking down of barriers, perfectly aligning with Berlin’s reputation as a hub for diversity and inclusion.
However, not everyone sees this as a step forward. Advocacy group Athlete Ally claims that such a policy might further alienate and marginalise transgender athletes. They added that true protection for women athletes goes beyond just categorising and should address issues like sexual harassment, pay disparity, and equal opportunities.
The debate surrounding transgender women in sports gained traction when Lia Thomas transitioned and joined the UPenn women’s team in 2020. Despite facing backlash, she went on to win an NCAA Division I title, sparking debates on fair competition in women’s sports.
While some argue transgender women have a competitive advantage, current research does not conclusively support this claim. A 2017 report found no consistent evidence of transgender athletes outperforming their cisgender counterparts.
Regardless of differing viewpoints, the Swimming World Cup in Berlin will undoubtedly be a historic event, setting the stage for future conversations on inclusivity and fairness in sports.