A weightlifter from New Zealand will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics, as women’s sports grapple with a debate over the fairness of allowing biological males to compete against women.
Laurel Hubbard, 43, was selected Monday to compete in the women’s super-heavyweight category in Tokyo this summer, having competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning in 2013.
New Zealand Olympic Committee chief Kereyn Smith called Hubbard’s selection a “historic moment in sport and for the New Zealand team.”
“She is our first Olympian who has transitioned from male to female,” she said. “We do know that there are many questions about fairness of transgender athletes competing in the Olympic Games but I would like to take this opportunity to remind us all that Laurel has met all of the required criteria.”
In 2015, the International Olympic Committee issued guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman as long as their testosterone levels are below ten nanomoles per liter for at least one year before their first competition.
However, some scientists have argued that the guidelines do not mitigate the biological advantages of athletes who have gone through puberty as males.
Save Women’s Sport Australasia, an advocacy group, criticized the “flawed policy from the IOC” after Hubbard’s selection.
“Males do have a performance advantage that is based on their biological sex,” the group’s co-founder Katherine Deves told Reuters TV.
“They outperform us on every single metric – speed, stamina, strength. Picking testosterone is a red herring … We are forgetting about the anatomy, the fast, rich muscle, the bigger organs,” Deves added.
The selection comes after Hubbard’s gold medal wins at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa sparked outrage after the New Zealander finished ahead of Samoa’s Commonwealth Games champion Feagaiga Stowers.
Samoa Weightlifting Federation President likened Hubbard’s Olympic selection to allowing athletes to “dope” and expressed concern that it could cost his country a medal, according to Reuters.
Meanwhile, former New Zealand weightlifter Tracey Lambrechs said she was pushed out of the super-heavyweight category at the Commonwealth Games for Hubbard.
“When I was told to drop the category because Laurel was obviously going to be their number one super, it was heartbreaking, like super soul-destroying,” the Olympian told TVNZ.
“And it’s unfortunate that some female, somewhere is like, ‘Well I’m going to miss out on going to the Olympics, on achieving my dream, representing my country because a transgendered athlete is able to compete,” she added.