Transgender swimmer ban: Maria Thattil defends criticism of FINA ruling


Miss Universe Australia Maria Thattil is called a ‘disappointment to women’ for opposing ban on transgender swimmers – but she claims she is a victim of ‘cancel culture’

Maria Thattil has doubled down on her view that transgender women should be allowed to compete against biological women in swimming 

The former Miss Universe Australia, 29, sparked debate on Monday when she condemned FINA, the international sports federation for swimming, for ruling that trans women can now only compete in women’s races if they completed their transition by age 12.

Discussing the announcement on Today Extra on Monday, Ms Thattil branded the decision ‘counter intuitive’ and said it sets a ‘dangerous precedent’ for sport. 

Former Miss Universe Australia Maria Thattil, 29, (pictured) has doubled down on her belief that transgender women should be allowed to compete against biological women in swimming

Former Miss Universe Australia Maria Thattil, 29, (pictured) has doubled down on her belief that transgender women should be allowed to compete against biological women in swimming

The model has since received plenty of criticism online, with many Aussies arguing that fairness in sport is more important that inclusivity. 

One critic accused Ms Thattil of being a ‘disappointment’, writing: ‘Unfollowing you since seeing [that] you disagreed with a trans [sic] woman being banned from competing against a biological woman.

‘As a woman, and an Australian, you’re a disappointment.’ 

Hitting back on Wednesday, Ms Thattil replied to the user: ‘If voicing a different opinion is un-Australian and a disappointment in your books – so be it! No need to announce the unfollow, it’s not an airport.’

Ms Thattil sparked debate on Monday when she condemned FINA, the international sports federation for swimming, for announcing that transgender women can now only compete in women's races if they completed their transition by age 12

Ms Thattil sparked debate on Monday when she condemned FINA, the international sports federation for swimming, for announcing that transgender women can now only compete in women’s races if they completed their transition by age 12

One critic accused Ms Thattil of being a 'disappointment', commenting: 'Unfollowing you since seeing [that] you disagreed with a trans [sic] woman being banned from competing against a biological woman. As a woman, and an Australian, you're a disappointment'

One critic accused Ms Thattil of being a ‘disappointment’, commenting: ‘Unfollowing you since seeing [that] you disagreed with a trans [sic] woman being banned from competing against a biological woman. As a woman, and an Australian, you’re a disappointment’  

‘The criteria for being Australian is not having a homogenous POV [point of view]. Respectfully discussing different perspectives is how we understand each other and move forward. I was asked my opinion, so I gave it,’ she added.  

Ms Thattil went on to rant about being a victim of ‘cancel culture’, before highlighting the importance of creating ‘safe spaces’ for people to ‘respectfully’ share their beliefs.   

‘It’s my opinion that we should move away from fear-driven cancel culture that stops people from voicing their thoughts, questions, feelings etc,’ she insisted.

Hitting back on Wednesday, Ms Thattil replied to the user: 'If voicing a different opinion is un-Australian and a disappointment in your books - so be it! No need to announce the unfollow, it's not an airport'

Hitting back on Wednesday, Ms Thattil replied to the user: ‘If voicing a different opinion is un-Australian and a disappointment in your books – so be it! No need to announce the unfollow, it’s not an airport’

'It's my opinion that we should move away from fear-driven cancel culture that stops people from voicing their thoughts, questions, feelings etc,' she insisted.

‘It’s my opinion that we should move away from fear-driven cancel culture that stops people from voicing their thoughts, questions, feelings etc,’ she insisted.

Ms Thattil took a hard stance against FINA’s new policy when discussing the ruling on Monday’s Today Extra

‘I firmly believe sport is for all Australians, and I think irrespective of your sexuality, your gender identity, your culture, you should be able to play and [know] there’s a space for you’, said Ms Thattil, who recently came out as bisexual. 

She continued: ‘And I do feel an outright ban, and even having a separate category [for trans swimmers], is counterintuitive and not inclusive.’  

Ms Thattil went on to rant about being a victim of 'cancel culture', before highlighting the importance of creating 'safe spaces' for people to 'respectfully' share their beliefs

Ms Thattil went on to rant about being a victim of ‘cancel culture’, before highlighting the importance of creating ‘safe spaces’ for people to ‘respectfully’ share their beliefs

While the likes of trans activist Caitlyn Jenner and American swimmer Riley Gaines have lauded FINA’s decision as a win for ‘fairness’, Ms Thattil believes the policy change sends the wrong message. 

‘When we’ve got human rights commissions and sporting bodies that have actually set out guidelines for how we can be trans-inclusive and why it’s essential, I do think this is setting a dangerous precedent for sport,’ she warned.

Ms Thattil said the new rules ‘police womanhood’, with transgender women ‘disproportionately affected’.

Discussing FINA's ruling on Today Extra on Monday, Ms Thattil (left) branded the decision 'counter intuitive' and said it sets a 'dangerous precedent' for the future of sport

Discussing FINA’s ruling on Today Extra on Monday, Ms Thattil (left) branded the decision ‘counter intuitive’ and said it sets a ‘dangerous precedent’ for the future of sport

In FINA’s updated policy, male-to-female transgender athletes are eligible to compete only if ‘they can establish … that they have not experienced any part of male puberty beyond Tanner Stage 2 [of puberty] or before age 12, whichever is later’.

FINA made the decision on Sunday after its members heard a report from a transgender task force comprising leading medical, legal and sports figures. 

To accommodate the transgender athletes, the organisation is setting up an ‘open category’ for transgender athletes to compete against one another at events including the World Aquatics Championships, World Swimming Championships, and Swimming World Cup.

'I firmly believe sport is for all Australians, and I think irrespective of your sexuality, your gender identity, your culture, you should be able to play and [know] there's a space for you', said Ms Thattil, who recently came out as bisexual

‘I firmly believe sport is for all Australians, and I think irrespective of your sexuality, your gender identity, your culture, you should be able to play and [know] there’s a space for you’, said Ms Thattil, who recently came out as bisexual 

A working group will spend the next six months to determine how the ‘open category’ would operate. 

‘We have to protect the rights of our athletes to compete, but we also have to protect competitive fairness at our events, especially the women’s category at FINA competitions,’ FINA President Husain Al-Musallam said in a statement.

Such a policy would prevent an athlete like Lia Thomas from competing in the international events that would raise her standing in international swimming and potentially land her a place at the Olympics – which she said in a recent interview she would like to compete at in the future.

While the likes of trans activist Caitlyn Jenner (pictured) and American swimmer Riley Gaines have lauded FINA's decision as a win for 'fairness', Ms Thattil believes the policy change sends the wrong message

While the likes of trans activist Caitlyn Jenner (pictured) and American swimmer Riley Gaines have lauded FINA’s decision as a win for ‘fairness’, Ms Thattil believes the policy change sends the wrong message 

Thomas’ quick rise to the top of the women’s charts, though, has caused an uproar across the United States, with many arguing that she has an unfair physical advantage over her fellow competitors.

The decision to ban transgender athletes from FINA events was made during the federation’s extraordinary general congress as the world championships take place in Budapest.

Members of the organisation heard from a transgender task force comprising leading medical, legal and sports figures, which first convened to discuss the issue after the International Olympic Committee urged individual sports federations to create guidance on transgender athletes in November.

Husain Al Musallam (pictured), the president of FINA, announced the new policy on Sunday

Husain Al Musallam (pictured), the president of FINA, announced the new policy on Sunday

At the time, the IOC urged the federations to shift their focus from individual testosterone levels, and called for evidence to prove when a performance advantage existed. 

The experts concluded in their policy that there needs to be eligibility standards based on biological sex, writing: ‘Without eligibility standards based on biological sex or sex-linked traits, we are very unlikely to see biological females in finals, on podiums on in championship positions.’

As the scientists explained, biological males see their testosterone levels increase 20 fold during puberty, while the levels remain low in biological women during puberty – often around the age of 12.

‘A biological female athlete cannot overcome that advantage through training or nutrition. Nor can they take additional testosterone to obtain the same advantage, because testosterone is a prohibited substance under the World Anti Doping Code.’

Advocates for transgender inclusion argue that not enough studies have yet been done on the impact of transition on physical performance, and that elite athletes are often physical outliers in any case. (Pictured: Transgender University of Pennsylvania athlete Lia Thomas)

Advocates for transgender inclusion argue that not enough studies have yet been done on the impact of transition on physical performance, and that elite athletes are often physical outliers in any case. (Pictured: Transgender University of Pennsylvania athlete Lia Thomas)

The policy was passed with a 71 per cent majority after it was put to the members of 152 national federations with voting rights who had gathered for the congress at the Puskas Arena.

Around 15 percent voted no to the policy on eligibility in the men’s and women’s competition categories, while 13 percent abstained.

Transgender rights has become a major talking point as sports seek to balance inclusivity while ensuring there is no unfair advantage.

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

Thomas swam for the Pennsylvanian men’s team for three seasons before starting hormone replacement therapy in spring 2019.

The decision was made during FINA's extraordinary general congress on the sidelines of the world championships in Budapest after members heard a report from a transgender task force comprising leading medical, legal and sports figures. (Swimmers are pictured at the Women's 100m Breaststroke Semi Final on Sunday at the Budapest 2022 FINA World Championships)

The decision was made during FINA’s extraordinary general congress on the sidelines of the world championships in Budapest after members heard a report from a transgender task force comprising leading medical, legal and sports figures. (Swimmers are pictured at the Women’s 100m Breaststroke Semi Final on Sunday at the Budapest 2022 FINA World Championships)

A wave of doctors suggested Thomas – and other trans female athletes – will always have an unfair advantage in some sports because they cannot undo puberty, when their biological male bodies were flooded with testosterone. 

They say that one or even four years of hormonal therapy is not enough to reverse what happens to the male teenage body. 

‘There are social aspects to sport, but physiology and biology underpin it. Testosterone is the 800-pound gorilla,’ Michael J. Joyner, the Mayo Clinic doctor, said in an interview with The New York Times. 

He added on Good Morning America: ‘Body size, hand size, foot size, bone density [are all factors] but the main thing is the interactions of exercise training and muscle.

Lia Thomas (pictured) has broken a number of records in women's swimming for the NCAA

Lia Thomas (pictured) has broken a number of records in women’s swimming for the NCAA

‘I think that evidence so far would suggest a period of a year, two, three or even four years [of hormone therapy] is insufficient.’ 

But last month, Thomas shrugged off the concerns about her apparently unfair advantage.

She said some ‘cisgender’ women – a term used to describe someone whose gender identity is the same as the one they were given at birth –  have more testosterone, bigger hands and feet, and are taller than their competitors. 

Last month, Thomas (left, with Riley Gaines) shrugged off the concerns about her apparently unfair advantage. She said some 'cisgender' women - a term used to describe someone whose gender identity is the same as the one they were given at birth - have more testosterone, bigger hands and feet, and are taller than their competitors

Last month, Thomas (left, with Riley Gaines) shrugged off the concerns about her apparently unfair advantage. She said some ‘cisgender’ women – a term used to describe someone whose gender identity is the same as the one they were given at birth – have more testosterone, bigger hands and feet, and are taller than their competitors

Thomas also insisted insisted that she did not transition to perform better in the league tables, explaining: ‘Trans people don’t transition for athletics. We transition to be happy and authentic and to be ourselves. 

‘Transition to get an advantage is not something that factors into our decisions,’ she said. 

‘I don’t need anybody’s permission to be myself,’ she said.

She also said anyone who says she isn’t allowed to compete as a woman is transphobic, regardless of whether or not they support her right to transition. 

‘You can’t go halfway and be like “I support trans people but only to a certain point. If you support trans women and they’ve met all the NCAA requirements, I don’t know if you can say something like that. Trans women are not a threat to women’s sport.’

She has caused controversy, with experts claiming she has an 'unfair' advantage because she went through male puberty

She has caused controversy, with experts claiming she has an ‘unfair’ advantage because she went through male puberty

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