WELLINGTON – Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will become 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 that will change the debate about inclusion and fairness in sport will heat up.
Hubbard is in the Super heavy weight 87 kg category, their selection was made possible by updated qualification requirements.
The 43-year-old who will be the oldest lifter at the Games had competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before joining in 2013.
“I am grateful and humble for the kindness and support I have received from so many New Zealanders,” said Hubbard in a statement from the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) on Monday.
Hubbard has been eligible to compete in the Olympics since 2015, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued guidelines that allow any transgender athlete to compete as a woman, provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles each at least 12 months prior to their first competition Liter.
Some scientists have said the guidelines do little to mitigate the biological benefits of those who have gone through male puberty, including bone and muscle density.
Proponents of transgender inclusion argue that the transition process greatly diminishes this benefit, and that physical differences between athletes mean that there is never really a level playing field.
NZOC CEO Kereyn Smith said Hubbard had met the IOC and International Weightlifting Federation’s selection criteria.
“We recognize that gender identity in sport is a highly sensitive and complex issue that requires a balance between human rights and fairness on the field,” said Smith.
“As a 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 them, as we are of all our athletes, and will support them all along the way,” said Sports and Recreation Minister Grant Robertson in a statement.
Center of debate
Weightlifting has been at the center of the debate about the fairness of transgender athletes competing against women, and Hubbard’s presence in Tokyo could prove divisive.
Save Women’s Sport Australasia, an advocacy group for women athletes, criticized Hubbard’s selection.
“It is a flawed policy of the IOC that has made it possible to select 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 wins at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, where she led the podium ahead of Samoa’s Commonwealth Games Champion Feagaiga Stowers, sparked outrage in the host country.
Samoa’s head of weightlifting said Hubbard’s pick for Tokyo would be like Let athletes “dope” and feared it might cost the little Pacific nation a medal.
Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen said last month that Hubbard was allowed to compete in Tokyo unfair for women and “like a bad joke”.
The Australian Weightlifting Association tried to prevent Hubbard from participating in the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, but the organizers declined to take the move.
Hubbard had to retire after injuring herself during a competition thinking her career was over.
“When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was told that my sporting career was probably over,” said Hubbard on Monday, thanking the New Zealanders.
“But your support, your encouragement and your aroha (love) carried me through the darkness.”
New Zealand Olympic Weightlifting President Richie Patterson said Hubbard has “the courage and perseverance” to come back from an injury and rebuild her confidence.
“We look forward to helping them with their final preparations for Tokyo,” he said.
Another transgender athlete, BMX rider Chelsea Wolfe, will travel to Tokyo as part of the US team, but will be named as an alternative and will not be able to compete.
Canadian footballer Quinn, who came out as transgender last year and only uses one name, also has a chance at the Olympics five years after winning the bronze medal with the women’s team at the 2016 Rio Games.