Brooke Forde has 'great respect' for transgender University of Pennsylvania women's swim team member Lia Thomas
Olympian Brooke Forde has defended transgender University of Pennsylvania swimmer Lia Thomas, claiming Thomas has the right to swim against her in National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) events this year.
Previously known as Will before the pandemic, Thomas has competed on UPenn's women's swim team this season while breaking a number of records.
Thomas' presence in female competition has caused controversy, with the NCAA updating its policy to determine that individual sporting bodies must decide their own rules on transgender athlete participation amid pressure from a group of UPenn parents to amend regulations.
But while the likes of Caitlyn Jenner have blasted Thomas, the youngster has found support in potential rival and Tokyo 2020 silver medalist Forde.
In a statement which was read out by her father and sportswriter Pat on Yahoo Sports' College Football Enquirer podcast, Forde started by saying: "I have great respect for Lia.
"Social change is always a slow and difficult process, and we rarely get it correct right away," continued Forde, who finished second with the US' preliminary 4x200-meter freestyle relay team at the Games.
"Being among the first to lead such a social change requires an enormous amount of courage and I admire Lia for her leadership that will undoubtedly benefit many trans athletes in the future.
"In 2020 I, along with most swimmers, experienced what it was like to have my chance to achieve my swimming goals taken away after years of hard work [due to COVID-19]," claimed Forde, who is studying for a master's degree in epidemiology at Stanford.
"I would not wish this experience on anyone, especially Lia who has followed the rules required of her. I believe that treating people with respect and dignity is more important than any trophy or record will ever be, which is why I will not have a problem racing against Lia at NCAAs this year," she finished.
Aside from each sport's national governing body determining transgender athlete participation, new NCAA regulations will require trans athletes to document testosterone levels four weeks before championship selections.
In an interview in December, Thomas stated that she began hormone replacement treatment in May 2019 before going on to compete in the 2019-2020 swim season on UPenn's men's team.
This term, Thomas has qualified for a place at the NCAA's 2022 swimming and diving championships held in March and will do battle in the women's 200-yard, 500-yard, and 1,650-yard freestyle events.
Before that, though, in February, an announcement is set to be made on transgender student-athlete policy by USA Swimming, which said it has been working with its global counterpart FINA.