CAS Dismisses Transgender Swimmer Lia Thomas's Challenge on Gender Inclusion Policy

CAS Dismisses Transgender Swimmer Lia Thomas’s Challenge on Gender Inclusion Policy

The Court of Arbitration for Sport dismisses transgender swimmer Lia Thomas’s challenge against World Aquatics’ gender inclusion policy, barring her from elite competitions.

Swimmer Lia Thomas

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) has dismissed a challenge from transgender swimmer Lia Thomas, who sought to reject a policy preventing her from competing in women’s races at elite competitions.

This ruling marks a significant moment in the ongoing debate over gender inclusion in sports.

CAS Ruling and Implications

The Swiss-based CAS panel ruled that Thomas did not have standing to challenge the policy set by World Aquatics, the international federation for swimming.

The panel determined that Thomas is not currently eligible to compete in elite competitions under the federation or USA Swimming, rendering the policy inapplicable to her.

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

Thomas is notably absent from the preliminary entry list for the U.S. Olympic swimming trials, which start this weekend in Indianapolis and will precede the 2024 Paris Olympics.

Lia Thomas, who competed collegiately at Penn, made history in 2022 as the first openly transgender athlete to win an NCAA championship at the Division I level.

She argued that World Aquatics’ gender inclusion policy, which effectively bans transgender competitors from men’s or women’s races at elite competitions like the Olympics or world championships, is discriminatory.

The federation’s policy proposes creating “open category” races for transgender competitors alongside traditional men’s and women’s categories. This initiative aims to provide an inclusive, competitive environment while maintaining fairness in women’s sports.

World Aquatics’ Response

World Aquatics welcomed the CAS decision, describing it as “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 stated.

“Our policies and practices are continuously evaluated to ensure they align with these core values, leading to the introduction of our open category.”

The ruling focused solely on Thomas’s standing to challenge the policy, not the policy’s legitimacy.

Following a request from the international federation, the CAS panel considered her eligibility separately as a “bifurcated issue.”

Despite Thomas’s objection, the panel sided with World Aquatics.

Impact and Future Considerations

This decision highlights the complexities of gender inclusion policies in sports.

World Aquatics’ creation of an open category represents an effort to balance inclusivity with competitive fairness, though it has sparked considerable debate.

Thomas’s case underscores the ongoing challenges faced by transgender athletes seeking to compete at the highest levels.

As policies evolve, the sports community continues to balance inclusivity and fairness, aiming to uphold the integrity of competitive sports.


The CAS ruling against Lia Thomas’s challenge is pivotal in sports law, reflecting broader societal debates on gender and competition.

While Thomas’s immediate eligibility for elite competitions remains unaffected, the ruling sets a precedent for future cases involving transgender athletes.

This outcome reinforces World Aquatics’ commitment to fairness and inclusivity, paving the way for ongoing dialogue and policy refinement regarding gender inclusion in sports.

As the landscape of athletic competition evolves, the principles of fairness, respect, and equal opportunity remain central to the mission of sporting federations worldwide.

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