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Senior Lia Thomas competes in the women's 200-yard freestyle during a swim meet against Dartmouth and Yale at Sheerr Pool on Jan. 8.

Credit: Sukhmani Kaur

Sixteen members of Penn’s swimming team are requesting that University and Ivy League officials refrain from taking legal action against updates to the NCAA transgender athlete policy — which could prevent teammate Lia Thomas from competing in events.

The student-athletes wrote in their anonymous letter that Thomas was taking “competitive opportunities” away from them, particularly spots in the Ivy League championship meet, as originally reported by The Washington Post.

Earlier this month, the Penn women's swimming and diving team released a statement via Penn Athletics that expressed support towards Thomas’s participation. The University and the Ivy League have both previously released statements in support of Thomas' ability to compete on the women's team, and Penn Athletics said in a statement to ESPN on Jan. 20 that it will work to support Thomas' eligibility for upcoming NCAA swimming competitions.

While the Ivy League recently confirmed to Swimming World Magazine that Thomas will be able to compete in the upcoming Ivy League Women’s Swimming & Diving Championships scheduled for Feb. 16-19, it is still unclear whether Thomas will be eligible to participate in the NCAA Championships scheduled for March 16-19.

The NCAA announced on Jan. 19 that it will defer authority for eligibility to the national governing body of each sport on a sport-by-sport basis. The organization USA Swimming is now responsible for providing eligibility guidelines, and recently released new guidelines for transgender athlete eligibility.

The new Athletic Inclusion, Competitive Equity and Eligibility Policy by USA Swimming establishes that transgender women must maintain a concentration of testosterone in their serum at less than five nanomoles per liter for at least 36 months before the date of application, and also provide evidence that they do not have a competitive advantage over cisgender female competitors. The Olympic standard for transgender athletes is 10 nanomoles per liter, double the new USA Swimming standard.  

It is unclear whether or not this policy shift will impact Thomas' NCAA eligibility, as she began her medical transition in 2019. The latest policies also require that swimmers provide proof of medical documentation of having at least one year of testosterone-suppression treatment and will need to provide a one-time serum to ensure that her testosterone level is below the allowable amount for the sport. Thomas has undergone more than two years of hormone replacement therapy.

Additionally, the NCAA press release urged "flexibility to allow for additional eligibility if a transgender student-athlete loses eligibility based on the policy change provided they meet the newly adopted standards."

Members of the women’s swimming team wrote in their letter that they “fully support Lia Thomas in her decision to affirm her gender identity and to transition from a man to a woman," but wrote that when it came to sports, on the other hand, “the biology of sex is a separate issue from someone’s gender identity."

They added in the anonymous letter that Thomas, if eligible, may be able to break NCAA Women's Swimming records, and alleged that this would not be possible if she had been competing on the men's team.

Shortly after the members sent the letter, South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem signed a bill preventing transgender girls and women from playing on female sports teams in the state, becoming the tenth state in the United States with such a law. Pennsylvania is not among these states.

The NCAA has previously come out against these bans, saying that it "firmly and unequivocally supports" the right of transgender athletes to participate in sports in an April comment.