(NewsNation) — The day before University of Pennsylvania’s transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, 22, is set to compete in the NCAA women’s swimming and diving championships, tennis star Martina Navratilova said the rules allowing her to compete need to change.
“Its not about excluding transgender women from winning, ever,” Navratilova told NewsNation’s Rich McHugh in an exclusive interview. “But it is about not allowing them to win when they were not anywhere near winning as men. You try to keep it as close as possible to what it would have been had you been born in the female biological body in the first place.”
Thomas’ eligibility as a swimmer on the women’s team has been hotly debated after she started her collegiate career on the university’s men’s team while she was transitioning and then returned to swim on the women’s team this year.
“The solution perhaps for now is (for Thomas) to swim in another lane or you can compete but you don’t get the medal because the (NCAA) rules are not correct,” Navratilova said. “Right now, the rules are what they are. Maybe put an asterisk there, if she starts breaking records left and right and if Lia goes to the Olympics because she’s hitting her prime now physically.”
Until recently, the NCAA’s transgender participation policy deferred to the national governing body in each sport. Last month, USA Swimming announced new rules for transgender women. To compete, they must demonstrate testosterone levels below five nanomoles per liter for three years before competition. They must also provide evidence that they do not have a competitive advantage from being born male.
The NCAA chose not to adopt those new rules for the 2022 swim season because it “could have unfair and potentially detrimental impacts on schools and student-athletes intending to compete in the 2022 NCAA women’s swimming championships.” They require demonstrated testosterone levels below 10 nanomoles per liter.
“In the future, maybe it should be an open category for everybody and then biological females, so trans women can compete but they compete against men and trans men have a choice,” she added.
Navratilova has been an outspoken advocate for LGBTQ atheletes in the past, though her views on trans athletes has come under scrutiny by the LGBTQ community. This is not the first time Navratilova has spoken out against Thomas’ eligiblity. In December, she tweeted that it was “not fair for women to race against transgender Lia Thomas.”
Other top athletes have also weighed in.
Recently, Michael Phelps called the controversy complicated and has said there needs to be a “level playing field.”
Caiytlin Jenner, perhaps the most famous transgender athlete, has said she doesn’t think it’s fair that Thomas competes in women’s sports.
“[Thomas’] cardiovascular system is bigger, her heart is bigger, she’s got longer arms and legs,” Jenner said. “I don’t think biological boys should compete in women’s sports”
The issue has divided the swimming community. In December, concerned parents questioned the fairness of the situation in a letter to the NCAA, the conference and the school. Only Penn responded by saying they wanted to help the “community navigate Lia’s success.”
Last week, one of Thomas’ teammates called school leaders “weak” and said they were afraid of cancel culture for allowing Thomas to compete.
“I do not think that Lia should be competing in (NCAA championships) because there is now one less spot for a cisgender female who is of NCAA championship caliber who will not get to compete,” the swimmer said on the condition of anonymity because she feared backlash. “Whatever heat she’s in, whatever event she’s in, there is no longer a fair and equitable playing field,” she added.