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First transgender Olympic athlete to represent New Zealand at Games

New Zealand: The New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard is set to become the first transgender athlete to compete in the Olympics after being chosen to compete at the Tokyo Olympics in the women’s event, rekindling a debate over fairness and inclusion in sport.

Hubbard will compete in the super-heavyweight category 87+kg after qualifying requirements were adjusted in May. She has competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning in 2013. ‘I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support given to me by so many New Zealanders,’ Hubbard said in a statement issued Monday by the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC).

Kereyn Smith, the NZOC chief, called it a “historic moment in sport and for the New Zealand team’.’ Our first transgender Olympian. We do acknowledge that there can be questions about the fairness of transgender athletes competing in an Olympic Games, but I would like to take this opportunity to remind everyone that Laurel meets all of the requirements,’ she told reporters.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued guidelines in 2015 that allow transgender athletes to compete as women as long as their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for a minimum of 12 months before their first Olympics. Hubbard has been eligible to compete since then. Advocates of transgender inclusion argue that the transition process reduces that advantage considerably and that there is never a level playing field between transgender athletes and their male counterparts. The New Zealand government supported the guidelines.

‘We are proud of her as we are of all our athletes, and we will support her in every way,’ Sports Minister Grant Robertson said. Save Women’s Sport Australasia, which opposes transgender women competing in women’s sports, said Hubbard’s selection was allowed because of ‘flawed policies from the IOC’.

Katherine Deves, the co-founder of the group, told Reuters TV: ‘They do have an advantage that is biologically based’. She added, ‘They outperform us on every single metric.” The focus on testosterone is a red herring. It is easy to forget the anatomy, the rich muscles, and the bigger organs’. The IOC has always said it is committed to inclusion, and it is currently reviewing its guidelines to include the “perceived tension between fairness and safety and inclusion and non-discrimination’.

Hubbard’s winning of two gold medals at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, where she topped the podium ahead of Samoa’s Commonwealth Games champion Feagaiga Stowers, triggered outrage in the host nation. Samoa’s weightlifting chief was upset Hubbard was invited to Tokyo and expressed concern that she would lose the country a medal. Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen said Hubbard’s participation was ‘unfair and a bad joke’.

Former New Zealand weightlifter Tracey Lambrechs said she had to make way for Laurel Hubbard in the super-heavyweight division at the Commonwealth Games.’It was heartbreaking to be told that Laurel was going to be the number one super,’ the Olympian told TVNZ. ‘And it’s unfortunate that there is a female somewhere saying. Well, I’m going to miss out on going to the Olympics, on achieving my dream, representing my country because a transgender athlete can compete,’ she continued.

Hubbard, who was injured in competition at the Commonwealth Games and thought her career was over, thanked the New Zealanders.’Your support, your encouragement, and your aroha (love)carried me through the darkness,’ she said. Chelsea Wolfe, another transgender athlete, is also traveling to Tokyo for team USA, but she is listed as an alternate and is not guaranteed to compete.


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