World Aquatics’ plans to debut a new open category for transgender athletes at this week’s swimming World Cup in Berlin have been cancelled after no entries were received.
Swimming’s governing body, which last year voted to ban transgender women from the elite female category, had promised to stage the “pioneering pilot project” to promote its “unwavering commitment to inclusivity, welcoming swimmers of all sex and gender identities”.
However, its intention to hold an “open” category, with 50m and 100m races across all strokes alongside its men’s and women’s competition, has been put on hold – for now.
“Following the close of registration for the open category competitions at the World Aquatics Swimming World Cup – the Berlin 2023 meet scheduled for October 6-8th – World Aquatics can confirm that no entries have been received for the open category events,” it said in a statement.
World Aquatics’ decision to bar transgender women from elite female competitions if they had undergone male puberty came following research showing that trans women retained a significant advantage over female swimmers even after reducing their testosterone levels through medication.
Another factor in its vote in June 2022 was the success of American Lia Thomas, who had been a moderate college swimmer as a male competitor, but was able to win a NCAA national college title in the women’s category after transitioning.
Over the past 12 months several other sports bodies, including athletics and cycling, have gone down a similar path. However World Aquatics is the first major Olympic sport to attempt to create a third category of competition separate to the men’s and women’s events.
But while its initial pilot project did not get off the ground, the governing body said it would be willing to try again, potentially at masters events for swimmers aged over 35.
“The World Aquatics open category working group will continue its work and engagement with the aquatics community on open category events,” it added. “Even if there is no current demand at the elite level, the working group is planning to look at the possibility of including open category races at masters events in the future.”