ONE of the biggest sports’ stories in America so far this year has not been what anyone anticipated. 

Of all the eye-catching moments in the first couple of months of the year, it is the story of a US college swimmer, Lia Thomas, which has garnered miles upon miles of column inches. 

Thomas has made headlines in the New York Times, The Washington Post and almost every other publication in the country, plus countless others further afield, as the 22-year-old became 2022 Ivy League champion, shattering numerous records in the process. 

However, Thomas’ story is not that of a typical swimmer. 

She is a trans woman, and the outcry over her participation in women’s races has been impossible to ignore. 

Many both within the sport of swimming and on the outside have voiced the widely-held belief that Thomas’ participation is unfair on every other female competitor. 

Thomas, after all, grew up male and, it is argued, retains many of those physical benefits that come along with being born male. 

The debate over the participation of trans women in female sport has been at the forefront of sporting debate for a while now. 

Examples of these cases remain rare but, slowly but surely, more examples are emerging. 

Thomas’ case has, this week, become considerably more relevant in this country. 

A few days ago, legislation was published which could see Scotland become the first part of the UK to make it significantly easier for people to legally change their gender. 

The Gender Recognition Reform Bill will make a series of amendments to the Gender Recognition Act, which has been in place for almost 20 years and, if it is passed by MSPs, will cut the length of time that someone has to live in their new gender before being legally recognised from two years to six months. 

This could have a significant impact on women’s and girl’s sport in this country. 

Over in America, the dominance of Thomas, who was a college swimmer before she transitioned to female, has reignited the debate as to the advantage individuals who were born male have when competing in women’s sport. 

Despite the trans issue having been in the spotlight for a number of years now, sport is still struggling with how to deal with it. 

There is absolutely no consensus at all as to which is the best path forward.  

The question of which should be prioritised, fairness or inclusion, cannot be agreed upon and frankly, it is impossible to argue both are not important. 

The number of trans women competing in sport at a high level remains miniscule but that does not mean the issue should not be addressed. 

There has, as yet, been no cases in Scotland of trans women competing in sport at a high level but it is surely only a matter of time. And the impact someone like Thomas has had in America is an indication of what is likely to happen when a similar scenario arises in Scotland. 

A solution to the trans debate remains a considerable way off; exclusion entirely is not a perfect answer but neither is inclusion at the expense of fairness when research has shown that individuals born male retain some of those physical benefits even after transitioning. 

Other solutions, such as staggered starts, are nothing short of farcical. 

So, for now at least, the trans debate in sport remains something we in Scotland read about from a distance. 

When it is a swimmer such as Thomas winning Ivy League meets and smashing US college records, the issue seems far, far away. 

But this change in legislation could mean the debate comes far closer to home, and soon. 

It seems impossible to imagine that in the coming years, if not sooner, there will not be a trans woman competing in sport in Scotland. 

And when that happens, the furore which has surrounded Thomas will become a Scottish debate. 

And Another Thing . . .

The removal of the Russian and Belarussian teams from the Paralympics, which began on Friday, was met with almost universal support. 

However, it says much about the International Olympic Committee that it took such a ferocious backlash against their initial decision of allowing these athletes to compete but under no national banner before they reached this point. 

It should not come as any kind of surprise that the IOC, in the first instance at least, took the most lenient course of action. 

This is a sporting body which has, along with FIFA, been instrumental in the sportswashing that has done so much good for Russia. 

The IOC awarded the Winter Olympics to Sochi in 2014, despite knowing of the plethora of issues with this, and then following the biggest doping scandal in the history of sport, did the bare minimum when it came to dishing out punishment to Russia.  

In the end, there will be no Russians or Belarussians in Beijing for these Winter Olympics, but it is too little, too late. 

Russia has got what it wanted from sport and that, in large part, is thanks to the IOC and their consistent and sustained mealy-mouthed treatment of the country despite all the warning signs. 

Will this new, hard-line approach from the IOC be the start of something new? Will it mark the beginning of a new approach in which countries with objectionable human rights records be ostracised from the Olympic movement? 

I wouldn’t bet on it. In fact, I’d put all my money on the contrary.