Trans Swimmer Lia Thomas Quietly Waging Legal Battle To Overturn Rule Barring Olympic Eligibility

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Former University of Pennsylvania (UPenn) swimmer Lia Thomas is looking to overturn rules requiring transgender swimmers to have started transitioning at the age of 12 to be eligible to compete at the highest levels of the sport, according to an International Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) press release.

World Aquatics’ (WA), which governs all international water sports competitions and is recognized by the International Olympic Committee, adopted a policy in March 2023 that prohibited men who identify as transgender from competing in women’s swimming events unless they transitioned before age 12. Thomas, who competed in the women’s division at UPenn as a senior despite previously swimming in the men’s division, is mounting a legal defense and filed a “request for arbitration” with CAS in September, arguing that the policy is discriminatory, according to a Friday CAS press release. (RELATED: Sporting Associations Start To Crack Down On Men In Women’s Sports)

“Ms. Thomas accepts that fair competition is a legitimate sporting objective and that some regulation of transgender women in swimming is appropriate,” the press release reads. “However, Ms Thomas submits that the Challenged Provisions are invalid and unlawful as they discriminate against her contrary to the Olympic Charter, the World Aquatics Constitution, and Swiss law including the European Convention on Human Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; and that such discrimination cannot be justified as necessary, reasonable, or proportionate to achieve a legitimate sporting objective.”

University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas (C) poses on the podium after winning the 100-yard freestyle, Yale University swimmer Iszac Henig finished (L) second, and Princeton University swimmer Nikki Venema (R) finished third during the 2022 Ivy League Womens Swimming and Diving Championships at Blodgett Pool on February 19, 2022, in Cambridge, Massachusetts. (Photo by Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

The rules from WA came after Thomas became the first biological male swimmer to win the NCAA swimming championship in the 500-yard women’s final in March 2022. Thomas is asking the court to declare that the policy is “unlawful, invalid, and of no force and effect,” according to the press release.

Carlos Sayao, Thomas’ lawyer, said that the rules caused “profound harm to trans women” in a statement to The Telegraph, which first reported the story.

“Trans women are particularly vulnerable in society and they suffer from higher rates of violence, abuse and harassment than cis women,” Sayao said. “Lia has now had the door closed to her in terms of her future ability to practice her sport and compete at the highest level.”
Sayao and WA did not immediately respond to the Daily Caller News Foundation’s request for comment.

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