Sixteen members of the Penn women's swimming and diving team and their families sent a letter on Thursday to Ivy League executive director Robin Harris, conference athletic directors and university presidents asking them not to challenge a new USA Swimming policy that could prevent Quakers swimmer Lia Thomas, a transgender woman, from competing this postseason.
The letter, sent by three-time swimming Olympic gold medalist Nancy Hogshead-Makar on behalf of the athletes and their families, came two days after USA Swimming released a new policy for elite transgender athletes. The new policy requires transgender women swimmers to demonstrate they have maintained a testosterone level below 5 nanomoles per liter continuously for at least 36 months before competition.
In addition to testosterone levels, transgender women must provide evidence that they do not have a competitive advantage from being assigned male at birth. The evidence will be reviewed by a panel of three independent medical experts. These rules apply to events designated as "elite" by USA Swimming (e.g. U.S. Open, Junior Nationals, etc.), to USA Swimming members and to those wishing to be eligible for American records beginning with the 13-14 age group.
"We, 16 members of the Penn Women's Swimming Team and our family members, thank USA Swimming, for listening to our request to prioritize fairness for biological women in our elite competitions," the letter said. "We ask that Penn and the Ivy League support us as biological women, and not engage in legal action with the NCAA to challenge these new Athlete Inclusion Policies."
The online Penn swimming and diving roster lists 41 athletes.
Past rules that governed Olympic-level swimmers mandated testosterone levels below 10 nanomoles per liter for one year. USA Swimming said its new policy will not apply to non-elite athletes. Transgender men wishing to compete in the men's category will continue to use the existing self-identification process.
On Jan. 19, the NCAA announced it would follow a sport-by-sport model to determine eligibility for transgender athletes beginning with the 2022 winter championships, including swimming and diving in March. The new policy stated it would use the policies of national governing bodies to determine eligibility for transgender athletes. The policy changes come in the wake of Thomas' success this season. The senior, who was a member of the Penn men's swimming team for three seasons, has posted some of the nation's top times in the 200-yard, 500-yard and 1,650-yard freestyle events this season.
Her eligibility under the new rules is unknown. The Ivy League has said through a spokesperson that the updated USA Swimming rule "does not impact Lia's eligibility for this month's Ivy League Women's Swimming & Diving Championships as the effective date for this unprecedented midseason NCAA policy change begins with the 2022 NCAA Winter Championships."
The NCAA committee on competitive safeguards and medical aspects of sports, which is tasked with reviewing and deciding how to apply national governing bodies' policies, meets "later this month," according to an NCAA spokesperson.
"We fully support Lia Thomas in her decision to affirm her gender identity and to transition from a man to a woman," Thursday's letter said. "Lia has every right to live her life authentically. However, we also recognize that when it comes to sports competition, that the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone's gender identity."
A spokesperson for the Ivy League declined to comment, saying that the league does not respond publicly to letters submitted to its office.
A statement supporting Thomas from several members of the women's swimming and diving team was released through the Penn athletics office Tuesday.
"We want to express our full support for Lia in her transition," the athletes said. "We value her as a person, teammate, and friend."