Swimming’s global governing body, World Aquatics, is debuting a new ‘open category‘ for gender-diverse athletes. It will first appear at the upcoming swimming World Cup in Berlin.
It comes after last year’s ruling restricting the participation of transgender athletes in elite women’s competitions.
Last year, World Aquatics ruled that only transgender swimmers who transitioned before the age of 12, or before a particular phase of puberty, could compete in women’s events.
It said this was to mitigate “the extent of the male/female performance gap… [that] emerges from the onset of puberty”.
The body said it would instead spend six months looking into the possibility of an open category – which it did, and is now debuting at the Berlin World Cup.
The World Aquatics Swimming World Cup is one of the most prestigious international competitions for water sports.
According to World Aquatics, this year in Berlin swimmers of all gender identities will be able to compete in 50m and 100m races across all strokes, with the possibility of additional open events in the future.
Last year’s decision came three months after Lia Thomas won a U.S. college championship. Thomas was the first openly transgender woman to win a college title in the women’s category, which sparked international attention.
She told ABC News (U.S.) that the decision from World Aquatics, which made her ineligible for their women’s category, was “deeply upsetting… discriminatory and will only serve to harm all women”.
Thomas is yet to comment on the open category.