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 Ms 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 Mr DeSantis believes the NCAA was “trying to undermine the integrity of the competition” and said University of Virginia freshman and Olympic silver medallist Ms Weyant is the deserved winner of the event.
“She had the fastest time of any woman in college athletics,” DeSantis said of Ms 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.”
The NCAA did not immediately respond when asked to comment by Reuters.
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 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 Ms 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 Mr 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 Mr DeSantis.
“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.”
Mr DeSantis is a Donald Trump ally who is widely seen as a leading presidential contender in 2024.