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The NCAA Did Not Strip Lia Thomas of Any Swimming Medals
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The NCAA Did Not Strip Lia Thomas of Any Swimming Medals

A satirical social media post has been elevated by users mistaking it for a factual claim.

Lia Thomas looks on from behind the blocks during the 2022 NCAA Division I Women's Swimming and Diving Championship on March 17, 2022, in Atlanta, Georgia. (Photo by Mike Comer/NCAA Photos/Getty Images)

Lia Thomas, a transgender woman, first garnered headlines in 2021 while competing for the women’s swim team at the University of Pennsylvania after three years of swimming with the men’s team. In March 2022, Thomas won the women’s 500-yard freestyle at the NCAA Championships. Thomas’ participation prompted criticism from activists who want to preserve women’s sports for biological women on the grounds that transgender athletes have unfair physical advantages. Among the most outspoken activists is Riley Gaines, a former NCAA swimmer who competed against Thomas at the 2022 championships. They tied for fifth in the women’s 200-yard freestyle

A recent social media post states, “NCAA: Lia Thomas loses all of his medals, Riley Gaines is getting them all.” The post is labeled as satire, but includes a link to a false article that is not labeled as such, and many commenters and similar posts are treating the story as genuine.

The article linked from the post comes from a site named Love Your Day that has no list of named staffers, and provides only single-word pseudonyms for the bylines. The article has no basis in fact, claiming that:

The latest chapter iп Thomas’s joυrпey iпʋolʋes her challeпge to Riley Gaiпes’ qυalificatioп for the Olympic team. Gaiпes, a staпdoυt swimmer kпowп for her exceptioпal performaпces, secυred her spot oп the U.S. Olympic team amidst the Ƅackdrop of this heated deƄate. Thomas’s rejectioп from the opportυпity to compete oп the same stage has raised sigпificaпt qυestioпs aƄoυt the criteria aпd policies goʋerпiпg traпsgeпder athletes iп the Olympics.

The NCAA has not stripped Thomas of any awards. While the organization is reviewing its policy on transgender participation in sports and is expected to ban transgender women from competing in swimming and a handful of other sports for the 2024-25 school year, it has not yet done so. In any case, the NCAA would not have issued the award to Gaines. Emma Weyant from the University of Florida finished second to Thomas in the 500 free at the 2022 NCAA Championships and would have received the award. Meanwhile, Gaines is retired from swimming, did not compete at the recently completed Olympic Trials, and as such will not compete for the United States at the upcoming Olympics. She is an adviser for Independent Women’s Voice and gives speeches “defending women’s single-sex spaces.”

Thomas did recently suffer a different legal setback. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) ruled that Thomas had no legal standing to challenge rules changes adopted by World Aquatics, the international governing body for swimming formerly known as FINA, in 2022. The provision effectively banned transgender women from competing in events sanctioned by World Aquatics—such as the Summer Olympics—and instead established an “open” category where those identifying as transgender may compete. Thomas and her legal team asserted in a media release that the new rules were “invalid and unlawful as they discriminate against her contrary to the Olympic Charter.” 

“The CAS decision is deeply disappointing,” Thomas said in a statement put out by her attorney. “Blanket bans preventing trans women from competing are discriminatory and deprive us of valuable athletic opportunities that are central to our identities.”

Because Thomas has not competed since the 2022 NCAA Championships and is not registered with USA Swimming, the sport’s U.S. governing body, the CAS asserted she had no standing to challenge the rule.  

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Max Whalen is an intern at The Dispatch, based in Washington, D.C. A rising junior at Cornell University, he serves as the editor-in-chief of the Cornell Review. When Max is not keeping up with the headlines, you can probably find him listening to the Rolling Stones or rooting for the Arizona Diamondbacks.