Kiwi weightlifter Laurel Hubbard has become the first transgender athlete to compete at an Olympic Games, a controversial decision that has rustled the feathers of some in the international sporting community.
Hubbard forming part of the women’s weightlifting team for Tokyo 2020 opens the doors for transgender athletes to compete in top-tier sporting events in the future.
On one hand, advocates argue this promotes more inclusion at the Games. On the other hand, critics believe Hubbard has an unfair advantage with testosterone, bone and muscle density playing a factor.
“There are no advantages and disadvantages to a trans woman participating in a sport,” said ARC’s Community Manager, Clayton Mercieca.
“There’s a general idea that transgender people are being unfair, that they are cheating the system. It’s not the case, it’s about ability which goes beyond the biological makeup of a person,” he said.
Hubbard will be competing in the women’s 87kg weightlifting category. Her participation in the Olympics was possible following a rule change in 2015 which allowed transgender athletes to compete as a woman if their testosterone levels are below a certain threshold.
“The Olympics check to see who is allowed to compete in gendered sports. After a year of treatment, transgender women tend to get to the same testosterone level of that gender,” Mercieca continued.
Testosterone is a hormone that increases muscle mass. Critics of the decision also point out the biological advantages of those who have gone through puberty as men, such as increased bone and muscle density.
“Anyone that has trained weightlifting at a high level knows this to be true in their bones: this particular situation is unfair to the sport and to the athletes,” said Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen, who is competing in the same weight category as Hubbard.
However, the New Zealand Olympic Committee has stood by Hubbard and the decision to include her in the Games.
“As well as being among the world’s best for her event, Laurel has met the IWF eligibility criteria, including those based on IOC Consensus Statement guidelines for transgender athletes,” said chief executive Kereyn Smith said.
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