Fury over decision to let transsexual enter Tokyo Olympics

Fury over decision to let transsexual enter Tokyo Olympics: New Zealand’s female weightlifters reveal they are ‘told to be quiet’ when they complain that a woman ‘will lose out’

  • New Zealand transgender athlete Laurel Hubbard is set to compete at Olympics
  • Hubbard competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning
  • But former weightlifter Tracey Lambrechs has said women are being silenced
  • Those that complain, she says, are being ‘told to be quiet’ if they voice concern
  • Hubbard is set to become the first transgender Olympian after revised rules  
  • The requirement to attend six events is now four, meaning she may win a spot
  • The New Zealand Olympic Committee said it expected nomination and selection for its Tokyo 2020 Olympics weightlifting team would not happen until June
  • Weightlifting has been at the centre of a debate over the fairness of transgender athletes competing in women’s sports

A former Olympic weightlifter has said women are being told to ‘be quiet’ when they voice their complaints about the fairness of transgender New Zealand athlete Laurel Hubbard competing in the Olympics.

Hubbard is on track to become the first transgender athlete to compete at an Olympics after the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) modified qualifying requirements for the Tokyo Games on Wednesday.

But Tracey Lambrechs, who also competed for New Zealand in weightlifting, has said she believes Hubbard competing in the sport would be unfair to other women.

‘I’m quite disappointed, quite disappointed for the female athlete who will lose out on that spot,’ Lambrechs, who won a bronze medal for New Zealand at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, told TVNZ.

‘We’re all about equality for women in sport but right now that equality is being taken away from us.

‘I’ve had female weightlifters come up to me and say, “what do we do? This isn’t fair, what do we do?”. Unfortunately, there’s nothing we can do because every time we voice it we get told to be quiet.’ 

Laurel Hubbard, 43, was born male but transitioned to female in her 30s. She competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning in 2013 [File photo]

The athlete, pictured before undergoing her transition, previously competed in men’s weightlifting competitions

Hubbard, 43, was born male but transitioned to female in her 30s. She competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning in 2013.

The athlete still has to satisfy the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) of her fitness and performance standards before selection for the team but the prospect she will compete in Tokyo has already raised hackles. 

Rival weightlifters and coaches have previously complained about her inclusion in the sport, while scientists have questioned the recently updated guidelines.

Tracey Lambrechs (pictured), who also competed for New Zealand in weightlifting, has said she believes Hubbard competing in the sport would be unfair to other women

The New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) said the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) had revised its qualifying due to the impact of Covid-19, putting Hubbard in the frame for Tokyo selection.

‘The NZOC can confirm that revised International Federation (IF) qualification systems are very likely to see a number of New Zealand weightlifters, including Commonwealth Games transgender athlete Laurel Hubbard, allocated an IF quota spot for Tokyo 2020,’ the NZOC said in a statement.

‘A previous requirement to attend six competition events has been reduced to four due to the impact of COVID-19.’

She has been eligible to compete in the Olympics since 2015, when the IOC issued guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition.

Many scientists have criticised these guidelines, saying they do little to mitigate the biological advantages of those who have gone through puberty as males, including bone and muscle density.

Advocates for transgender inclusion argue the process of transition decreases that advantage considerably and that physical differences between athletes mean there is never a truly level playing field in sport.

Hubbard is aiming to make New Zealand’s Tokyo Olympics squad to contest the women’s +87kg category, an event in which she is currently ranked 16th in the world. 

Hubbard is aiming to make New Zealand’s Tokyo Olympics squad to contest the women’s +87kg category, an event in which she is currently ranked 16th in the world [File photo]

In a statement on Thursday, the IOC said that while committed to inclusion, it was currently reviewing its guidelines to take into account the “perceived tension between fairness/safety and inclusion/non-discrimination”.

“The IOC is developing new guidance to help ensure that athletes – regardless of their gender identity and/or sex characteristics – can engage in safe and fair competition,” it said.

The exact criteria for transgender participation in elite sport is determined by the international federations and some have already adjusted the IOC guidelines for power events.

World Rugby banned transgender athletes from the elite women’s game last year for safety reasons. 

The NZOC said it expected nomination and selection for its weightlifting team would not happen until June, when it would have a final list of qualified athletes from the IWF.

‘Prior to that all athletes must provide evidence of capability to finish in the top 16 at the Games, with the potential to achieve a top 8 placing,’ the NZOC added.

Weightlifting New Zealand, the national body for the sport, did not provide immediate comment when contacted by Reuters news agency,  but has been a staunch supporter of Hubbard’s right to lift in women’s competitions.

Hubbard rarely gives interviews but told Radio New Zealand in 2017 that she just wanted to compete in the sport she loves and had ‘blocked out’ criticism [File photo]

The NZOC said: ‘The New Zealand Team has a strong culture of manaaki (caring), inclusion and respect for all.’

Weightlifting has been at the centre of the debate over the fairness of transgender athletes competing in women’s sports, and Hubbard’s presence in Tokyo could prove divisive.

Her gold medal wins 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 island nation.

Australia’s weightlifting federation sought to block Hubbard from competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast but organisers rejected the move.

Rival weightlifters and coaches at the Commonwealth Games also complained.

Hubbard withdrew from the tournament after injuring herself lifting, allowing Stowers to take gold in the 90+kg division.

Some on social media have criticised Hubbard’s potential inclusion in the upcoming Olympics, saying it would be unfair to other women to allow her to compete.

‘The female weightlifters should boycott & change the course of this ‘making of history’,’ one Twitter user wrote.

Others referred to Hubbard as a ‘cheat’ and insinuated she would be taking the spot from another woman.

Hubbard rarely gives interviews but told Radio New Zealand in 2017 that she just wanted to compete in the sport she loves and had ‘blocked out’ criticism.

‘If I try and take that weight on board it just makes the lifts harder… I am who I am,’ she said.

‘I don’t want to change the world. I just want to be me and do what I do.’ 

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