Penn swimmer says Lia Thomas’ participation ‘ruins the integrity of the sport’ ahead of NCAA championship

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University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas is set to participate in the 2022 NCAA Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships, but one teammate told Fox News Digital in an exclusive interview that she fears the impact of her participation has “completely ruined the integrity of the sport.”

The student, who spoke to Fox News on the condition of anonymity out of fear of retribution, spoke highly of her team’s accomplishments at the Ivy League Championships in Cambridge, Massachusetts, last month but expressed her disappointment in the decisions that allowed Thomas, a 22 -year-old transgender woman who competed on the men’s team for three seasons, to compete against women with record-breaking performances.

“It’s not necessarily an achievement in my mind,” she said. “Women’s records are separate from men’s records. It’s its own distinct category because no woman is going to be as fast as a man, and here is just completely – we’re just throwing away the definition of a record to fit into someone else’s agenda of what it should mean to them when in reality it makes no scientific sense to do so.”

2022 NCAA WOMEN’S SWIMMING AND DIVING CHAMPIONSHIPS: LIA THOMAS FAVORITE TO WIN 200, 500 FREESTYLE

Lia Thomas of the Pennsylvania Quakers after winning the 500-meter freestyle event during a tri-meet against the Yale Bulldogs and the Dartmouth Big Green at Sheerr Pool on the campus of the University of Pennsylvania on Jan. 8, 2022, in Philadelphia, Pa.
(Hunter Martin/Getty Images)

Thomas is one of 322 athletes who qualified for the men’s and women’s championships this week after securing several records at the Ivy League Championships last month with wins in the 100, 200 and 500 freestyle events. She’s set to compete in those same events, and in two of them, she ranks first in the nation.

“It’s still just disappointing to know that the NCAA lacks the courage to do the right thing,” the swimmer said. “I think if Lia were to break an Olympian’s record, it would cause a lot of damage to the sport and to women, and I think it would cause more people to come out [against the guidelines]people who were afraid to speak before.”

The NCAA updated its transgender participation policy in January to defer to the guidance of each sport’s governing body. The NCAA announced that its policy would become effective in March, starting with the Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships.

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USA Swimming updated its policy shortly after requiring transgender athletes who are competing at an elite level to have small levels of testosterone – half of what Thomas was allowed to compete with – for at least 36 months before being eligible, but the NCAA said weeks later that the Administrative Subcommittee of the Committee on Competitive Safeguards and Medical Aspects of Sports (CMAS) decided that it wouldn’t alter its testosterone guidance, stating that “implementing additional changes at this time could have unfair and potentially detrimental impacts on schools and student-athletes intending to compete in 2022 NCAA women’s swimming championships.”

University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas reacts after her team wins the 400-yard freestyle relay during the 2022 Ivy League Women's Swimming and Diving Championships at Blodgett Pool on Feb.  19, 2022, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas reacts after her team wins the 400-yard freestyle relay during the 2022 Ivy League Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships at Blodgett Pool on Feb. 19, 2022, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
(Kathryn Riley/Getty Images)

“I think there’s a way where you can still be your authentic self and be who you are and swim as who you are while not competing against women,” the student told Fox News. “If you had compassion for your teammates or women at all, you would admit you have an unfair advantage and not do this to women.”

The student said the team has been supportive of Thomas expressing herself despite what many believe, but she explained how she could not stand by a decision to compete against other women with an advantage.

“I don’t understand how we could have been more supportive as a team,” she said. “But I will not back down, and my teammates and women across the country should not be told to back down from speaking their minds about an issue that so heavily affects them. They’re being discriminated against. Women’s rights are being violated.”

She continued: “This whole season has been about her. Everything this whole season has been about Lia, and we’ve all sacrificed everything, our entire livelihoods we’ve sacrificed. How much more should we be willing to sacrifice for Lia. I ‘m not willing to sacrifice anything else. We’ve already sacrificed team morale and the way that people look at our team success and have the media, to that aspect, thrown in.”

Pennsylvania's Lia Thomas cheers for teammates competing in the 1,650-yard freestyle final at the Ivy League swimming and diving championships at Harvard, Saturday, Feb.  19, 2022, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

Pennsylvania’s Lia Thomas cheers for teammates competing in the 1,650-yard freestyle final at the Ivy League swimming and diving championships at Harvard, Saturday, Feb. 19, 2022, in Cambridge, Massachusetts.
(AP Photo/Mary Schwalm)

The student said while she’s hopeful for the year ahead, she feared Thomas’ participation has left behind a legacy damaging the sport.

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“This will still haunt us in the fact that pool and team records have been broken unfairly and in an illegitimate way. We’re supposed to look up at the record board and see Lia’s name and somewhere accept that.”

She added, “It completely ruins the integrity of the school.”

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