Transgender swimmer Lia Thomas has been quietly mounting a legal battle against World Aquatics to overturn the swimming governing body’s effective ban on most trans women competing in the highest levels of the sport, a lawyer representing Thomas confirmed to NBC News on Friday.
Carlos Sayao, a partner at top Canadian law firm Tyr, said Thomas is asking the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland to overturn the new World Aquatics rules, issued in June 2022, that prohibit trans women from competing in women’s swimming events unless they transitioned before age 12.
The U.K.’s Telegraph was the first to report on Thomas’ behind-closed-doors legal challenge in an article published Thursday evening. Details of Thomas’ challenge, which The Telegraph reported began in September, were not made public previously because cases brought before the Court of Arbitration for Sport are meant to be kept confidential by all parties involved.
The new rules, which would effectively bar trans women from competing in women’s swimming events at the Olympics, came several months after Thomas, then a student at the University of Pennsylvania, made history by becoming the first openly transgender woman to win an NCAA swimming championship. And in May 2022, Thomas told ABC News’ “Good Morning America” that it’s been a lifelong goal of hers to compete in the Olympics.
Sayao confirmed his comments to The Telegraph regarding the rules imposed by World Aquatics, which he called “discriminatory” and said caused “profound harm to trans women.”
“Trans women are particularly vulnerable in society and they suffer from higher rates of violence, abuse and harassment than cis women,” he told the British newspaper.
Sayao declined to comment further.
World Aquatics and the Court of Arbitration for Sport did not immediately return requests for comment.