Swimming World Cup’s new ‘open’ category for transgender athletes scrapped as it received no entries

Lia Thomas (pictured) - Swimming World Cup's new 'open' category for transgender athletes scrapped as it received no entries
World Aquatics banned transgender women from the elite female category following the success of transgender swimmer Lia Thomas (above) - USA TODAY/Brett Davis

The first attempt to trial a new “open” category in elite sport for transgender athletes has been scrapped after no entries were received.

World Aquatics became the first major Olympic governing body to ban transgender women from the elite female category but, as part of last year’s announcement, had promised to stage events in a third ‘open’ category that would be separate from the usual men’s and women’s races.

The first opportunity for transgender swimmers to compete in this category was due this weekend, when the World Cup in Berlin was ready to host 50 metres and 100m races in each stroke, but not a single entry was received.

It suggests either that there is a minimal number of transgender swimmers who are willing or capable of competing at an elite level or that there is little desire to compete in races outside of the usual categories.

Other major Olympic sports have followed swimming in preventing transgender women who transitioned after male puberty from competing in women’s events but have instead simply renamed the ‘male’ category ‘open’ rather than create new races.

Swimming’s decision to create a new open category had followed the success of the transgender swimmer Lia Thomas in major American university events and fears that previous rules around testosterone suppression could not safeguard fair competition for women.

World Aquatics described the new open category as a “pioneering pilot project” which would promote its “unwavering commitment to inclusivity, welcoming swimmers of all sex and gender identities”. It will now look to stage other open events for transgender swimmers in the Masters category for people over the age of 25.

“The World Aquatics open category working group will continue its work and engagement with the aquatics community on open category events,” said a spokesperson. “Even if there is no current demand at the elite level, the working group is planning to look at the possibility of including open category races at masters events in the future.”

German Swimming Federation’s vice-president Kai Morgenroth said that the hosts were “proud” to hold an event where swimmers can “compete without barriers”. “Berlin is Germany’s hub for diversity and inclusion and therefore the perfect location for such a progressive project,” he said.

One swimmer who will compete in Berlin is Britain’s double Olympic 100m breaststroke champion Adam Peaty following his break from competitive action since March due to mental health challenges.

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