Swimming: Aussie Olympic champion Emily Seebohm backs limits on transgender athletes competing against women in pool

Swimmers Emily Seebohm & Lia Thomas
Swimmers Emily Seebohm & Lia Thomas. Photo credit: Getty Images

Australian Olympic gold medallist Emily Seebohm has welcomed FINA's decision to restrict the participation of transgender athletes in elite women's swimming, saying the sport could now move on with certainty.

FINA made the decision at its extraordinary general congress (EGC), after members heard a report from a transgender task force comprising leading medical, legal and sports figures.

Five-time world champion Seebohm, who won a medley relay gold medal for Australia at last year's Tokyo Games, says the decision will encourage swimmers to stay in the sport.

"I'm finally happy that we have a decision, and we know where the sport's going and what we're going to be doing," the 30-year-old told Sky News Australia.

"We just didn't know what was going to happen and when we just don't know, it's hard to commit fully to our sport, if we have no idea the direction it's going to go.

"We can all move on. We can all just go back to the sport that we love... and know that we're getting in the pool and it's going to be a fair, level playing field, and that's what we want."

Athlete Ally, an advocacy group for LGBTQI+ people in sport, says FINA's decision is "discriminatory" and "harmful".

"If we truly want to protect women's sports, we must include all women," it tweeted.

Transgender rights has become a major talking point, as sports seek to balance inclusion with fairness. The issue has been a focal point of NZ Commonwealth Games and Olympics campaigns, with the selection of transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, despite worldwide protests.

The debate intensified, after University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas became the first transgender NCAA champion in Division I history, winning the women's 500 yard freestyle earlier this year.

FINA says it will create a working group to establish an "open" category for them in some events as part of its new policy.


Several top Australian female swimmers have raised concerns about competing against transgender athletes.

Four-time Olympic champion Cate Campbell has told FINA's EGC that she supported a restriction on transgender athletes competing in women's categories, and urged people to "listen to the science and experts".

"Women, who have fought long and hard to be included and seen as equals in sport, can only do so because of the gender category distinction," Campbell said, before delegates voted in favour of the ban. "To remove that distinction would be to the detriment of female athletes everywhere."

However, Madeline Groves - a former national champion swimmer, who won a butterfly silver medal at the 2016 Rio Games - took exception to Campbell's comments and was scathing of FINA's ruling.

Kiwi weightlifter Laurel Hubbard in action at the Tokyo Olympics
Kiwi weightlifter Laurel Hubbard in action at the Tokyo Olympics. Photo credit: Getty

"You're okay with ostracising an already marginalised group?" she posted on social media. "Real accepting.

"Shame on everyone that supported this discriminatory and unscientific decision."

Australian women won eight of the country's nine gold medals at the Tokyo pool.

The Australian Olympic Committee has also backed FINA's decision, saying sports are bound to ensure participation is "fair and safe".

"While inclusivity must be respected, fairness in competition is a core value of sport," a spokesperson said.

"FINA has made a decision based on the circumstances in the sport of swimming to achieve that balance."