Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas loses legal challenge in CAS ruling

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has dismissed a challenge from transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, who had asked the Swiss-based court to reject a policy that would prevent her from competing in women's races at elite competitions.

In its ruling, which was published Wednesday, the panel of arbitrators determined that Thomas did not have standing to challenge the policy created by swimming's international federation, World Aquatics. The CAS panel found that "for the time being" she is not eligible to compete in elite competitions through World Aquatics or USA Swimming, so the policy does not apply to her.

"She is currently only entitled to compete in USA Swimming events that do not qualify as 'Elite Events,'" according to the arbitral award.

Thomas is not on the preliminary entry list for the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, which begin this weekend in Indianapolis ahead of the start of the 2024 Paris Olympics next month.

An attorney for the swimmer did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment.

In a file photo from 2022, swimmer Lia Thomas after a race at the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships at Georgia Tech.
In a file photo from 2022, swimmer Lia Thomas after a race at the NCAA Swimming & Diving Championships at Georgia Tech.

Thomas competed collegiately at Penn and in 2022 became the first openly transgender athlete to win an NCAA championship at the Division I level. She had argued to CAS that World Aquatics' gender inclusion policy − which effectively banned transgender competitors from competing in men's or women's races at elite competitions, such as the Olympic Games or world championships − is discriminatory.

The federation's policy proposed the creation of “open category” races for transgender competitors, in addition to categories for men and women.

World Aquatics said in a statement provided to USA TODAY Sports that it welcomed the CAS decision, calling it "a major step forward in our efforts to protect women's sport."

"World Aquatics is dedicated to fostering an environment that promotes fairness, respect, and equal opportunities for athletes of all genders and we reaffirm this pledge," the federation said. "Our policies and practices are continuously evaluated to ensure they align with these core values, which led to the introduction of our open category.

"We remain committed to working collaboratively with all stakeholders to uphold the principles of inclusivity in aquatic sports and remain confident that our gender inclusion policy represents a fair approach."

The arbitral award, which was dated Monday, only concerned Thomas' standing to challenge the World Aquatics policy, not the legitimacy of the policy itself. The CAS panel said in its decision that it considered her eligibility first and separately as a "bifurcated issue," following a request from the international federation. Thomas objected to World Aquatics' request but the panel sided against her.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas loses legal challenge in front of CAS