Lia Thomas challenges trans swimming ban

(YouTube screen capture)

The title says it all: “Thomas v. World Aquatics.” It might as well be “Thomas versus the world,” given the global pushback against transgender athletes. But this case, confirmed on Friday by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, is specific to the organization that in June 2022 banned trans swimmers from competing in elite women’s competitions, as the Los Angeles Blade reported at the time.

Although only announced now, the CAS statement published Friday reveals arbitration proceedings began confidentially last September. News of the challenge was first published by the U.K. news outlet, The Telegraph

According to the CAS, Thomas’ attorney — Carlos Sayao of the law firm Tyr, based in Toronto — conceded that “fair competition is a legitimate sporting objective and that some regulation of transgender women in swimming is appropriate.” 

But then Tyr went on to argue why the CAS should declare the World Aquatics policy is “unlawful, invalid, and of no force and effect.”

“Ms. Thomas submits that the Challenged Provisions are invalid and unlawful as they discriminate against her contrary to the Olympic Charter, the World Aquatics Constitution, and Swiss law including the European Convention on Human Rights and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women; and that such discrimination cannot be justified as necessary, reasonable, or proportionate to achieve a legitimate sporting objective.”.

Sayao is himself a former elite-level competitive swimmer who won a silver medal for Canada at the World University Games in 2001 and also competed in the 2002 Commonwealth Games and the 2003 World Aquatics Championships.

He told The Telegraph the World Aquatics’ policy changes constituted a “trans ban.”

“She’s bringing the case for herself and other trans women to ensure that any rules for trans women’s participation in sport are fair, proportionate and grounded in human rights and in science,” Sayao stated to the Telegraph.

Thomas is now a law student at Drexel University who swam for the University of Pennsylvania women’s team after starting her gender transition in 2019. 

She was crowned the first trans NCAA Division I individual champion after winning the 500-yard freestyle at the Swimming and Diving Championships in Atlanta in March 2022.

Penn swimmer Lia Thomas opens up about being the 1st transgender D-I athlete to win an NCAA title (

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