WELLINGTON, June 21 (Reuters) – Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics after being selected by New Zealand for the women’s event at the Tokyo Olympics, a decision set to reignite debate about inclusion and fairness in sport. .
Hubbard will compete in the 87+kg super heavyweight category, selection made possible by an update to qualifying requirements in May.
The 43-year-old, who will become the oldest weightlifter at the Olympics, had competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning 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), Monday.
NZOC chief Kereyn Smith said it was a “historic moment in sport and for the New Zealand team.”
“He is our first Olympian to have transitioned from male to female,” he told reporters.
“We know that there are many questions about the fairness of transgender athletes competing in the Olympics, but I want to take this opportunity to remind all of us that Laurel has met all the required criteria.”
Hubbard has been eligible to compete in the Olympics since 2015, when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued guidelines allowing transgender athletes to compete as women as long as their testosterone levels were below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least the 12 months prior to their first competition.
Some scientists say the guidelines do little to reduce the biological advantage of those who have gone through puberty as boys.
Proponents of transgender inclusion argue that the transition process greatly diminishes that advantage, and that physical differences between athletes mean that there has never really been equality.
The New Zealand government provides its support.
“We are proud of him because we are all our athletes, and will support him along the way,” said Sports Secretary Grant Robertson.
Weightlifting has been at the center of the debate about the fairness of transgender athletes competing with women, and Hubbard’s presence in Tokyo could prove divisive.
Save Women’s Sport Australasia, a group against transgender women competing in women’s sports, said Hubbard’s election was authorized by the “wrong policy of the IOC”.
“Men do have a performance advantage based on their biological gender,” the group’s co-founder Katherine Deves told Reuters TV.
“They outperformed us in every metric – speed, stamina, power. Choosing testosterone is a tough thing… We forget about anatomy, the faster the muscle twitches, the bigger the organ.”
The IOC has consistently said it is committed to inclusion but the organization also reviews its guidelines to consider the “perceived tensions between justice/security and inclusion/non-discrimination”.
Hubbard’s gold medal win at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, where he topped the podium in front of Samoan Commonwealth Games champion Feagaiga Stowers, sparked outrage in the host nation.
Samoa’s weightlifting boss said Hubbard’s selection for Tokyo would be like letting athletes use drugs and feared it could cost the tiny Pacific nation a medal.
Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen said last month allowing Hubbard to compete in Tokyo was unfair to women and “like a bad joke”.
Former New Zealand weightlifter Tracey Lambrechs said she had to make her way in the super-heavyweight category at the Commonwealth Games for Hubbard.
“When I was told to drop out of the category because Laurel was obviously going to be their number one super, it was heartbreaking, like soul-crushing,” the Olympic athlete told TVNZ.
“And it’s unfortunate that some women are, somewhere like, ‘I’m going to miss going to the Olympics, to achieve my dream, to represent my country because a transgender athlete is able to compete.’
Hubbard, who injured himself during competition at the Commonwealth Games and thought his career was over, thanked New Zealanders.
“Your support, your encouragement, and your aroha (love) carried me through the darkness,” he said.
Another transgender athlete, BMX racer Chelsea Wolfe, will travel to Tokyo as part of the United States team, but has been named as an alternative and is not guaranteed to compete.
(This story corrects the quote in paragraph 16 to “muscle twitch faster” from “fast and rich muscle”)
Reporting by Praveen Menon; Edited by Peter Cooney
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