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Florida Governor Refuses To Recognise Transgender Swimmer Lia Thomas As Winner Of Race

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Florida Governor Refuses To Recognise Transgender Swimmer Lia Thomas As Winner Of Race

Florida Governor Ron DeSantis has refused to recognise Lia Thomas as the winner of a college swimming race, amid an ongoing debate over the participation of transgender athletes in sport.

Thomas won the women's 500-yard freestyle event at a competition in Atlanta, Georgia last week, making her the first transgender woman in history to become a National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) champion - the highest title in US college sports.

She beat Emma Weyant - a Florida native who won silver in the 400m individual medley event at last year's Tokyo Olympics - to the title by 1.75 seconds, however in a new proclamation, DeSantis has refused to recognise the result, instead declaring Weyant the winner.

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Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Credit: Alamy
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis. Credit: Alamy

In a statement, DeSantis said that Thomas' victory had 'undermined the integrity of the competition,' and accused the NCAA of 'destroying women's athletics' by allowing her to compete.

"They're crowning somebody else the women's champion and we think that's wrong," he said. "They are putting ideology ahead of opportunity for women athletes and I think that there are just some people that are afraid to speak out and say what they are doing, but that is what they are doing."

US Swimming recently introduced new guidelines that aimed to allow transgender athletes to compete at elite level while reducing any unfair advantage they may have, however the NCAA said it would not be implementing the new rules until next season, enabling Thomas to continue to compete for the remainder of the college year.

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Lia Thomas. Credit: Alamy
Lia Thomas. Credit: Alamy

In January, the NCAA board of governors voted to take a sport-by-sport approach to rules on allowing transgender athletes to compete, saying that policies would take an approach that 'preserves opportunity for transgender student-athletes while balancing fairness.'

Thomas, who swims for the University of Pennsylvania, had previously swum for the men's team for three seasons before beginning hormone replacement therapy (HRT) in 2019.

A number of athletes and organisations have said she should not be allowed to swim in women's events, however in an essay for Newsweek swimmer Erica Sullivan, who finished in third behind Thomas last week, defended her rival, and said there were more important issues to focus on.

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"As a woman in sports, I can tell you that I know what the real threats to women’s sports are: sexual abuse and harassment, unequal pay and resources and a lack of women in leadership. Transgender girls and women are nowhere on this list," she wrote.

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Featured Image Credit: Espn/Alamy

Topics: News, Sport, LGBTQ

Hannah Smith
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