Lia Thomas, a swimmer on the University of Pennsylvania women’s swim team, has been making waves in and out of the pool. The 22-year-old senior recently shattered Penn records in the 200m and 500m freestyle at a tri-meet with Cornell and Princeton on November 20.

But the swimmer, formerly known as Will Thomas, previously competed for the university as a man, raising questions as to the legitimacy of Thomas’s records.  

According to the Daily Mail, Thomas’s time of 1:43:47 in the 200m freestyle would have secured a silver medal at the NCAA Women’s Championships, while her 4:35:06 in the 500m freestyle would have earned bronze. 

The NCAA “firmly and unequivocally” supports the participation of transgender male-bodied athletes on women’s collegiate athletic teams, even in sports where  roster spots are limited. The NCAA requires male-to-female transgender athletes to have completed at least one year of testosterone suppression treatment to be eligible to compete as a woman. It is unknown whether or when Thomas began testosterone suppression, but the swimmer competed as a man as recently as November 2019. 

Studies indicate, however, that testosterone suppression in biological males who have already experienced male puberty cannot eliminate the male athletic advantage. Even after hormone therapy, studies show that biological men maintain a significant advantage in speed and strength over biological females. Moreover, testosterone suppression does not alter height, limb length, or other skeletal parameters. Thus, transgender athletes who were born male and begin testosterone suppression after the onset of male puberty are likely to retain a significant athletic advantage. 

Although the NCAA claims its policy is based on principles of inclusion, it in fact makes college athletics less inclusive—and far less fair—for women and girls. In fact, the NCAA’s policy undermines the express purpose of Title IX, which Congress passed forty-nine years ago to expand opportunities for women and girls.

Federal regulations implementing Title IX require schools, colleges, and universities that receive federal money to “provide equal athletic opportunity for members of both sexes,” 34 C.F.R. § 106.41(c) (emphasis added). To support this mission, the regulations explicitly allow schools to operate single-sex teams. 34 C.F.R. § 106.41(b). 

A Gallup poll conducted in May 2021 found that 62 percent of American respondents believed that transgender athletes should only be permitted to compete in sports that correspond with their birth sex. 

Learn more about the growing threat to women’s sports HERE.