Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas in new legal battle

Lia Thomas (L) - Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas in fresh legal battle
Lia Thomas' (left) triumph in the 500-yard freestyle event in Atlanta, almost two years made global headlines - Getty Images/Icon Sportswire

Lia Thomas is at the centre of another landmark legal battle over sport’s transgender rules after a group of 16 American women launched a lawsuit against the body that allowed her to become a national college champion.

Seven weeks after Telegraph Sport revealed Thomas had been mounting a secret challenge against the ban on her swimming in elite women’s races – including at the Olympics – a claim has been filed against the National Collegiate Athletics Association (NCAA) amid its ongoing refusal to prevent trans women competing in a number of sports.

The 156-page submission to the United States District Court in the northern district of Atlanta, Georgia, where Thomas became the first openly trans person to win an NCAA Division I title two years ago, includes accusations around 300 women had been forced to share a locker room with someone with “full male genitalia”.

Among those to have brought the case is Riley Gaines, the swimmer who has led opposition to Thomas racing in women’s events in the US and who claimed last year she and others had been exposed to “a 6ft 4in biological man dropping his pants and watching us undress”.

In the claim for damages, it is detailed that “without notice to female swimmers competing in the 2022 NCAA Championships, the NCAA and … one or more other state actors or actors with apparent state authority … changed the designation of the locker rooms to be used by the women swimmers … to ‘unisex’ locker rooms.

“And directed women swimmers and teams that Thomas was entitled to use all designated locker rooms allocated to the women swimmers and teams.

“This change was made so that Thomas, a fully grown adult male with full male genitalia, would use the same locker rooms to be used by more than 300 female student-athletes, depriving the female student-athletes of sex-separated women’s locker room facilities and bathroom and restroom facilities where their right to bodily privacy could be protected, exposing the women to shock, humiliation, and embarrassment in violation of their constitutional right to bodily privacy.”

Riley Gaines - Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas in fresh legal battle
Riley Gaines has led the protest against trans swimmers being allowed to compete against females - Getty Images/Darren Abate

The complaint adds that five of the 16 plaintiffs were impacted by this arrangement, adding that they were “entitled to declaratory relief, compensation, punitive damages and attorneys’ fees”.

Telegraph Sport revealed in January that Thomas had asked the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) in Switzerland to overturn rules brought in by World Aquatics after she won the 500-yard freestyle event at the NCAA Division I Women’s Swimming and Diving Championships.

Thomas’s triumph made global headlines and sparked a major furore in the US and beyond over her participation in women’s races.

Her landmark victory came less than three years after she began transitioning – she had previously been ranked just 65th over the same distance in the division’s male category – and led to protests from rival swimmers.

Her NCAA win was followed three months later by a rule change introduced by World Aquatics banning those to have gone through male puberty from women’s races under its jurisdiction and introducing a new ‘open’ category for those like Thomas.

A growing number of sports governing bodies have been bringing in similar policies amid mounting pressure from athletes, campaigners and politicians to prioritise fairness and safety over inclusion, which a victory at CAS for Thomas would leave open to further legal challenges.

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