US team’s fury at ‘betrayal’ after trans swimmer joined squad

US team’s fury at ‘betrayal’ after trans swimmer joined squad

In the most dramatic uprising yet against biological males competing in women’s sport, a female swimming team in Virginia have condemned their own university for allegedly making them accept a transgender athlete into their events.

The entire women’s swim team at Roanoke College staged a press conference in which they said they felt cheated and abandoned after a former member of the men’s team joined their ranks last month. The trans swimmer, who has not been named, was a top-10 performer in the equivalent male conference.

While the case has clear parallels with that of Lia Thomas, who last year sparked a global furore by becoming the first trans athlete to win a national collegiate title, the Roanoke students’ decision to take collective action is unprecedented. It marks the first time that a team of female athletes have stood together in public to uphold their rights to sex-based eligibility in sport.

“I never expected to be blindsided by a team-mate from the men’s team who now wanted to compete against me and my fellow swimmers and shatter our records,” said Bailey Gallagher, the 21-year-old captain of the senior team, who stressed she had initially been supportive of the swimmer transitioning. Lily Mullens, 20, asked: “Why even try to swim when racing against a biological male? Our defeat was written in biology.”

Mullens explained there had been shock and confusion when their coach informed them the trans swimmer would be part of the women’s team. She and her team-mates claim they were under pressure to show solidarity, describing how the swimmer had expressed suicidal thoughts when told the situation was “biologically unfair”.

Kate Pearson, 19, said: “Our experience was an emotional rollercoaster ride that I don’t want any girl ever to go through with.” She indicated that the disparities in performance were so stark that in the first training session together, the trans athlete came close to breaking her college record of 23.93 seconds for the 50 metres freestyle. The swimmer has since withdrawn from the team.The episode, Pearson argued, had been a “betrayal”. She and her team-mates initially approached their coach for help, only to be told that Roanoke could compete without them if necessary. Mullens, vividly recalling the emotional impact of such comments, said: “I questioned my purpose for swimming. Why would I even try to swim if I was going to have to race against a trans swimmer? In private conversations with my team, I found we were all experiencing the same anxiety, heartache and fear.”

The National Collegiate Athletic Association has been so resolutely pro-trans that Thomas, the swimmer who went from being the United States’s 554th-ranked male to beating every female rival in the country, was even nominated for its “woman of the year award”.

“Not a single administrator came to ask us how we felt or how we were holding up after the integrity of our sport was ripped away from us,” Pearson said. “The college was following NCAA policy, which tosses women like us aside.”

In response to the Thomas firestorm, World Aquatics, swimming’s global governing body, acted last year to restrict international women’s races solely to those born female. “That policy protects the Olympians,” Gallagher said. “But where is the NCAA and USA Swimming? Why are they not protecting the rest of us?”

Although Roanoke College insists that no formal decision was reached about whether the trans athlete should be included in the women’s team, the female swimmers say it was presented as a fait accompli.

Martina Navratilova, the nine-time Wimbledon champion, applauded the young women for taking matters into their own hands. “Well done, girls,” she said. “This is exactly what it will take to change the rules.”



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