'Do we have a voice?': U Arizona female swimmers speak out about protecting women's sports

The Mar. 24 letter, signed by members of the 2008 National Championship team, examines the NCAA's handling of transgender policies and expresses frustration with allowing Lia Thomas to compete in the women's division.

'Do we have a voice? The people responsible for protecting women's swimming should swiftly rectify the guidelines,' the letter reads.

University of Arizona Women’s Swimming & Diving team members are demanding that the integrity of women’s sports be protected.

The Mar. 24 letter, signed by members of the 2008 National Championship team, examines the NCAA’s handling of the 2022 National Championship and expresses frustration with allowing, Lia Thomas, a biological man, to compete in the women’s division.

In the letter, the swimmers express outrage over the state of women’s swimming, note the lack of response by the NCAA, and offer thoughtful solutions that the NCAA could have adopted to prevent the national controversy.

The letter was inspired by University of Texas swimming alumni who penned a letter to their Athletics Department in March, challenging the NCAA decision to allow Thomas eligibility.

According to the Arizona swimmers, it was “hard to express the anguish the women’s swim community has experienced this past week.”

”On one hand, we feel we are witnessing irrevocable damage to a sport that has transformed our own identities for the better,” the women wrote. 

In lieu of 2020 marking the 50th anniversary of Title IX, a law that prohibits sex-based discrimination and has long protected fairness in women’s sports, the Arizona swimmers argue that years of women’s achievement have been erased in a single year.

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”From the birth of the NCAA in 1906 until 1972, women had to fight to earn the law that provided equal opportunities for women in sports,” the swimmers wrote. “It took a male to female transgender person one year to take the women’s swimming national championship title.”

Thomas made national headlines after becoming the first ”transgender woman” to claim a National Championship title on Mar. 17.

The victory was the bookend of a season-long saga that resulted in a rule examination and a heavy conversation about protecting fairness in women’s sports. The NCAA updated its transgender policy to be determined on a “sport-by-sport” basis after concerns began to rise following a record-breaking performance by Thomas in December. 

However, Thomas was already grandfathered into the competition and immune to USA Swimming standards that pose heavy restrictions on testosterone. 

According to the collegiate alumni, the NCAA did not go far enough to protect fairness in women’s sports.

”There were many options the NCAA could have implemented to create a fair environment for women competitors,” the letter suggests. 

The swimmers do suggest adding a separate heat designated for transgender swimmers with separate awards and scoring opportunities. 

Or, swimmers could be required to compete according to biological sex, as was done by Yale transgender swimmer Iszac Henig.

The letter explains how Henig was not at a biological disadvantage should she have competed against men, but doing so would have left her with less accomplishment on the national stage.

”[Henig] placed fifth in the [100 freestyle.] Henig’s time of 47.52 earned the swimmer an All-American award and added 13.5 points to Yale’s team score,” the letter states. “Had Henig chosen to swim at the men’s competition however, the same time would have failed to even reach the men’s A qualifying time of 41.71 by almost six seconds dashing the whisper of a chance this swimmer would even step up to the block.”

Campus Reform spoke with former University of Southern California swim coach David Salo ahead of the championship meet in March. He echoed a similar solution to provide the most equitable response to achieving inclusion. 

The letter also argues the biological differences between men and women that gave Thomas an advantage over the competition. According to the swimmers, the last seeded qualifier in the men’s 500-yard freestyle would still lap the fastest women’s time by two full laps.

”This year in the 500 freestyle in the men’s A standard qualifying time is 4:11.62. The women’s A standard qualifying time was 4:35.76,” the letter explains.

Thomas finished first in the championship heat, taking home the title with a clocked time of 4:33.24.

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Virginia Tech’s Emma Weyant finished in second with a final time of 4:34.99- more than one second behind Thomas’ pace.

The discrepancy in time has flagged an issue that has sparked swimmers and parents to speak out. 

Virginia Tech’s Reka Gyorgy, who competed against Thomas in the 500-yard freestyle, penned a letter to the NCAA that expressed her frustration on being bumped from the championship heat because Thomas was eligible to compete.

Additionally, a parent of one of Thomas’ competitors spoke with the Georgia Tech student newspaper The Liberty Jacket about how the controversy demoralized and impacted the season.

”All the parents of all the girls who are here that I have spoken with feel that it is unfair...I haven’t spoken with anyone who is in agreement with it,” she said.

The UA letter concludes with a call to action to the NCAA to acknowledge the biological advantages held by men and protect fairness in women’s sports.

”These revelations and disparities alarm us when it seems there was no urgency in skillfully and educationally addressing how the scientific and biologic differences may impact women’s competitions,” the swimmers state.

The letter continues, “Do we have a voice? The people responsible for protecting women’s swimming should swiftly rectify the guidelines. The women from the University of Arizona will not quietly stand down while our victories and accomplishments float away.”

The women also invite the NCAA to open the doors of discussion to find solutions for “the expanding athletic family.”

Campus Reform contacted the swimmers and the University of Arizona for contact. This article will be updated accordingly.

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