Lia Thomas: Florida governor Ron DeSantis refuses to recognise transgender swimmer's win
Ron DeSantis, a Donald Trump ally who is seen as a leading presidential contender for the 2024 election, said second-place Emma Weyant had "the fastest time of any woman in college athletics" and is the deserved winner
Last Updated: 23/03/22 11:46am
Florida governor Ron DeSantis has signed a proclamation acknowledging runner-up Emma Weyant as the winner of a women's college swimming event after she lost to a transgender athlete.
Lia Thomas beat Weyant by 1.75 seconds in the 500-yard freestyle last Thursday in Atlanta to become the first transgender National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) champion in Division I history.
But DeSantis believes the NCAA was "trying to undermine the integrity of the competition" and said University of Virginia freshman and Olympic silver medallist Weyant is the deserved winner of the event.
"She had the fastest time of any woman in college athletics," DeSantis said of Weyant during a news conference.
"Now the NCAA is basically taking efforts to destroy women's athletics, they're trying to undermine the integrity of the competition and they're crowning somebody else the women's champion and we think that's wrong."
Transgender rights have long been a controversial and politically divisive issue in the United States, from sports to serving in the military and even what bathrooms people are allowed to use. The NCAA did not immediately respond when asked to comment by Reuters.
Among those to show their support for Thomas was Labour MP Charlotte Nichols, with the former competitive swimmer and member of parliament for Warrington North sending her congratulations.
"As a former competitive swimmer, indeed, I know full well how much training is required for a title like this and anyone nastily trying to diminish Lia Thomas's incredible achievement because of lazy transphobia should frankly pipe down," Nichols posted on Twitter. "Huge congratulations to her."
The NCAA Board of Governors in January voted in support of a sport-by-sport approach to transgender participation that it said "preserves opportunity for transgender student-athletes while balancing fairness ... for all who compete".
In February, USA Swimming unveiled a new policy to allow transgender athletes to compete in elite events by setting out criteria that aims to mitigate any unfair advantages.
The issue gained some level of urgency given the emergence of Thomas, who competed on the University of Pennsylvania men's team for three years before transitioning and moving to the women's team and setting multiple records.
According to DeSantis, the NCAA is making a mockery of its championship given the organisation's stance on transgender athletes' participation.
"We need to stop allowing organisations like the NCAA to perpetuate frauds of the public - and that's exactly what they are doing," said DeSantis, a Donald Trump ally who is widely seen as a leading presidential contender in 2024.
"They are putting ideology ahead of opportunity for women athletes and I think that there are just some people that are afraid to speak out and say what they are doing, but that is what they are doing."