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Updated transgender and non-binary competition policy for masters swimmers

Swim England has published its updated transgender and non-binary competition policy which aims to make all its sports fair and accessible to everyone.

It is the first time the policy has been revised since 2015 and will see a new ‘open’ category introduced for masters swimmers taking part in competitions where ranking times are submitted.

The ‘open’ category will be for athletes with a birth sex of male, trans or non-binary competitors.

Only athletes who have declared a birth sex of female will compete in the ‘female’ category.

It has been introduced in a bid to create a ‘fully-inclusive, non-discriminatory competitive environment’.

Swim England commissioned an independent consultant to gather the views of more than 2,000 of its members, stakeholders and advocacy groups before drawing up the updated policy.

It will come into effect on 1 September 2023.

Opportunities and enjoyment

Mike Hawkes, Swim England head of diversity and inclusion, said the changes had been introduced in a bid to ensure we can maintain the competitive integrity of our pathways, whilst also providing a competitive offer for our transgender members.

He said: “Transgender competition within sport is an emotive subject.

“However, we believe we have created an inclusive competitive environment that will provide opportunities and enjoyment for everyone entering Swim England events.

“As a result of the strength of feeling displayed via our independent consultation, we recognise that fair competition is considered the backbone of our aquatic sports and therefore must be prioritised.

“This is a policy that will allow for inclusion up to the highest level possible, at which point competitive integrity across our events and talent pathways takes priority.

“We think that we’ve been creative and we’re confident we’ve really taken into account the considerations of each individual sport.

“Those who participate in aquatics recreationally should be able to do so, in a fully-inclusive environment, free from discrimination.

Key changes

“In order to achieve this, we will continue to support operators to provide a varied pool programme, catering for the many demographics found in our communities across England.”

The policy has been updated after considering prevailing research in this area, the UK’s Sports Councils Guidance for Transgender Inclusion in Domestic Sport and assistance from several partner national governing bodies.

Among the key changes for masters swimming are:

  • As a non-contact competition, the inclusion of trans or non-binary participants does not present an increased level of risk with regards to ’safety of competitors’.
  • Therefore, ‘fairness of competition’ is considered against the need for maximising participation at this level.
  • Subsequently, trans or non-binary people are free to self-ID and participate in the eligibility category aligned to their gender identity, although times will not be submitted for rankings.
  • For events that will submit times for rankings, ‘fairness of competition’ must be prioritised.
  • Therefore, only athletes with a birth sex of female will swim in the female category, while athletes with a birth sex of male, trans or non-binary will swim in the open category. 
  • Any trans or non-binary competitors intending to compete in the open category should remain aware of the anti-doping criteria.
  • This states the use of hormones in most cases contravene the World Anti-Doping Agency Code and therefore anyone using hormones for the purpose of gender reassignment are encouraged to contact UK Anti-Doping to determine whether they are required to apply for a Therapeutic Use Exemption.

The updated policy applies to Swim England competitions only, including those organised by its member regions, counties, clubs and affiliated organisations.

It will integrate with policies published by British Swimming, LEN and World Aquatics but, after considering feedback that it should not be applied in a blanket fashion from grassroots to elite level, it is not identical.

To view the transgender and non-binary competition policy, download a range of resources and view a list of frequently asked questions, please click here.