Wellington: Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard becomes the first transgender athlete to compete in the Olympics after being selected by New Zealand for the women’s event at the Tokyo Games, a decision to end the debate on inclusion and fairness in sport too awake.
Hubbard will compete in the super-heavyweight 87kg category, which is made possible by her choice of updated qualification requirements.
The 43-year-old, who will be the oldest lift at the Games, competed in weightlifting competitions for men before switching in 2013.
’I am grateful and humbled for the kindness and support that so many New Zealanders have given me,’ Hubbard said in a statement issued by the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) today.
Compete as a woman
Hubbard has been eligible to compete in the Olympics since 2015, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman, provided their testosterone levels are at least 12 months before their first competition under 10 nanomoles per liter.
Some scientists have said that the guidelines do not help the biological benefits of those who have gone through puberty, including bone and muscle density.
Proponents of transgender inclusion argue that the process of transition significantly reduces the benefit and that physical differences between athletes mean that there is never really a level playing field.
Kereyn Smith, chief executive of NZOC, said Hubbard met the selection criteria of the IOC and the International Weightlifting Federation.
’We recognize that gender identity in sport is an extremely sensitive and complex issue that requires a balance between human rights and fairness on the playing field,’ Smith said.
’As the New Zealand team, we have a strong culture of ... inclusion and respect for all.’ The New Zealand government offered its support.
‘Laurel is a member of the New Zealand Olympic team. We are proud of her, as we are of all our athletes, and will support her all the way, ‘said Sports and Recreation Minister Grant Robertson in a statement.
Weightlifting has been at the heart of the debate over the fairness of transgender athletes competing against women, and Hubbard’s presence in Tokyo could be divisive.
Save Womens Sport Australasia, a group for women athletes, criticized Hubbard’s choice.
“This is a flawed policy of the IOC that could choose the choice of a 43-year-old biological man who identifies as a woman to compete in the female category,” the group said in a statement.
Hubbard’s gold medal win at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, where she topped the podium ahead of the Feagaiga Stowers of Samoa’s Commonwealth Champion, caused outrage in the host country.
The weightlifting boss from Samoa said that Hubbard’s choice for Tokyo would be like having athletes “baptized” and fearing that it could cost the small Pacific country a medal.
Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen said last month that Hubbard could compete in Tokyo, was unfair to women and ‘like a bad joke’.
The weightlifting federation in Australia tried to stop Hubbard from taking part in the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, but the organizers rejected the move.
Hubbard was forced to withdraw after injuring herself during the competition, thinking her career was over.
“When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was advised that my sports career was likely to come to an end,” Hubbard said on Monday, thanking the New Zealanders.
“But your support, your encouragement and your love (love) carried me through the darkness.” New Zealand Olympic weightlifting president Richie Patterson said Hubbard had ‘gravel and perseverance’ to recover from an injury and rebuild her confidence.
“We look forward to supporting her in her final preparations for Tokyo,” he said.
Another transgender athlete, BMX rider Chelsea Wolfe, will travel to Tokyo as part of the US team, but is designated as a replacement and is not assured of participation.
Canadian women’s soccer player Quinn, who came out as a transgender last year and uses only one name, is also a chance to be selected for the Olympics, five years after winning bronze with the women’’s team during the 2016 Rio Games.