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FILE - University of Pennsylvania athlete Lia Thomas prepares for the 500 meter freestyle at the NCAA Swimming and Diving Championships, March 17, 2022, at Georgia Tech in Atlanta. World swimming's governing body has adopted new rules for transgender athletes, only permitting swimmers who transitioned before age 12 to compete in women's events. FINA members voted 71.5% in favor of the new "gender inclusion policy" at the organization's extraordinary general congress on Sunday, June 19, 2022. Thomas made history in the United States as the first transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming championship. (AP Photo/John Bazemore)

Do you have a daughter? And if you do, does she participate in sports on a competitive level?

I ask this as the father of two teenage girls, neither of whom has captured much of anything in the way of athletic honors on the high school level, much less earn a college scholarship, sign an NIL deal, compete for a spot in the Olympics or cash a pro paycheck.

Heck, one of them doesn't even really like sports, which is fine. Whenever anyone tells me the same about themselves, that sports isn't their thing, I usually reply, "That just means you're more well-rounded than the rest of us."

But if your daughter were to lose a 50-meter swim, or a 100-yard dash, or a tennis match to a transgender athlete who began life as a boy, how would you feel about that?

Would you think it fair? Unfair? Foaming-at-the-mouth angry, bitter and disillusioned at the whole world because your daughter, biologically a female at birth, was competing against someone who began life as a male?

Because no less than Caitlyn Jenner — who won the decathlon for the United States in the 1976 Olympics as a man before coming out as a transgender woman in 2015 — believes it is an unfair advantage for the transgender female over the female that began life that way.

"It just isn't fair," the 72-year-old Jenner said a little less than 14 months ago. "And we have to protect girls' sports in our schools. (It's) a question of fairness."

This is the argument against allowing transgender women and girls to compete against those who were born a girl. To bolster that argument, they need only to turn to Lia Thomas as the indisputable example of their worst nightmares.

It was Thomas, after all, who became the first transgender athlete to win an NCAA Division I national championship in any sport when she swam her way to the women's 500-yard title with a time of 4:33.24, which was an eye-popping 1.75 seconds ahead of Olympic silver medalist Emma Weyant.

At that moment, in March of this year, the Unfairness Argument over transgender women competing against cis women (those who were born female) took hold.

On Sunday, FINA — the federation that oversees water sports for the International Olympic Committee — basically ruled against Thomas and any other transgender swimmer competing in any competition who hadn't begun a transition from male to female before the age of 12, which is when puberty theoretically begins and males begin to, in most cases, become bigger and stronger than their female counterparts.

FINA also proposed an "open competition category" to accomodate transgender athletes.

James Pearce, the spokesperson for FINA president Husain Al-Misallam, told the Associated Press: "This is not saying that people are encouraged to transition by the age of 12. It's what the scientists are saying, that if you transition after the start of puberty, you have an advantage, which is unfair."

Pearce added, "They're not saying everyone should transition by age 11, that's ridiculous. You can't transition by that age in most countries and hopefully you wouldn't be encouraged to. Basically, what they're saying is that it is not feasible for people who have transitioned to compete without having an advantage."

If you think this debate ends with FINA's ruling, you probably believe the Earth is flat and gasoline will drop to 50 cents a gallon by Wednesday.

As soon as FINA ruled, Athlete Ally — an advocacy group for LGBTQ athletes — released a statement labeling the policy "deeply discriminatory, harmful, unscientific" and "not in line with (the IOC's) framework on fairness, inclusion and non-discrimination on the basis of gender identity and sex variations. The eligibility criteria for the women's category as it is laid out in the policy (will) police the bodies of all women, and will not be enforceable without seriously violating the privacy and human rights of any athlete looking to compete in the women's category."

There are arguments to be made on both sides. Passionate arguments, to be sure. But also intelligent arguments. For instance, as powerful as Thomas was in the 500 free at the NCAA championships, she finished fifth in the 200 free and eighth in the 100 free. Beyond that, her winning time in the 500 free was 15 seconds slower than her best effort in that event before she began transitioning to a woman through hormone therapy.

But there is also this from Tamikka Brents, an MMA fighter whose skull was cracked in a 2014 fight against transgender boxer Fallon Fox.

Said Brents of the experience: "I've fought a lot of women and have never felt the strength that I felt in a fight as I did that night. I can't answer whether it's because she was born a man or not because I'm not a doctor. I can only say, I've never felt so overpowered ever in my life and I am an abnormally strong female in my own right."

My take? Allow transgender athletes to compete in all non-contact women's sports for the next three years, or until qualifying begins for the 2024 Olympics. Every championship won by a transgender woman in any sport carries a temporary asterisk. At the end of those three years, if there doesn't seem to be a noticeable competitive advantage for transgender competitors, remove the asterisks. However, if such a noticeable edge exists, they're out, thrown into an "open competition" category for further study.

Is any of this completely fair? Probably depends on which side you or your loved ones identify with, like so many other topics in the world these days.

But as all-time Olympic swimming great Michael Phelps said after Thomas's NCAA win in March: "I believe that we all should feel comfortable with who we are in our own skin, but I think sports should all be played on an even playing field."

Or at least a field believed to be even by the overwhelming majority until or unless science or statistics prove otherwise.

Contact Mark Wiedmer at mwiedmer@timesfreepress.com.

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