Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard has thanked the International Olympic Committee for its inclusive policy that will enable her to compete in an Olympics as a transgender athlete.
The New Zealander, 43, who competed as a male before switching in 2013, has qualified under International Weightlifting Federation rules to compete in the 87+kg category on Monday in Tokyo.
Her qualification, however, has caused division, with some questioning the honesty of transgender athletes who have gone through male puberty and compete against women, especially in strength sports.
Hubbard has not spoken to the media since her place on the New Zealand team was confirmed and a statement was read on her behalf at an IOC briefing on inclusion on Friday.
Transgender Kiwi weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will compete in the Tokyo Olympics in the women’s 87kg division – she was male before switching in 2013
“I see the Olympics as a global celebration of our hopes, ideals and values and I want to thank the IOC for its commitment to making sport inclusive and accessible,” she said.
Last month, Belgian competitor Anna Vanbellinghen publicly stated that it was a “bad joke” to have Hubbard compete in the 87+ category for women in Tokyo.
She was quick to add that she fully supported the transgender community, but the principle of inclusion should not be “at the expense of others.”
“Anyone who has trained at a high level in weightlifting knows that this is true to the bone: This particular situation is unfair to the sport and the athletes,” she told Olympic news website insidethegames.
Hubbard is not the first transgender athlete in Tokyo.
Soccer star Quinn is a key player for the Canadian women’s team, while Alana Smith is an American skater who also identifies as non-binary, meaning they do not identify as male or female.
The IOC paved the way for transgender athletes to participate in Olympic women’s events without gender reassignment surgery in 2015, issuing guidelines requiring their testosterone levels to be below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months before their first competition.
According to the IOC, there is now an IOC-led review of all scientific data to determine a new framework that would allow international federations to make individual decisions for their sport.
IOC medical director Richard Budgett said earlier this week it would be up to each federation to decide the rules for inclusion.
Budgett on Friday reiterated the IOC’s position that “trans women are women” and should be included in women’s sport “when we can.”
Quinn was a key figure for Canada in women’s soccer at the Tokyo Olympics – she was also the first trans athlete to compete in Tokyo
American skater Alana Smith is also non-binary, meaning she doesn’t identify as male or female
“After 100 years of promoting women’s sport, it is up to each of the international federations to ensure that they try to protect women’s sport,” he told the briefing.
“Science will help, experience will help, and time will help.”
Many scientists have said the IOC guidelines do little to reduce the biological benefits of those who have gone through puberty as males, such as bone and muscle density.
Secretary-General Kereyn Smith reiterated the New Zealand Olympic Committee’s support for Hubbard’s inclusion, saying it was important to remember that there was a “person” at the heart of the debate.
IWF spokesman Mark Cooper said it was a complex issue that the governing body was learning more about.
“As an international federation, it’s important to be careful and compassionate about this,” he said.
New Zealand Olympic Committee spokeswoman Ashley Abbott said Hubbard was inconspicuous in Japan, despite the “extremely high interest” in her Olympic debut.
The athlete, pictured left before transitioning, previously competed in men’s weightlifting competitions and set junior records in 1998. Right: Hubbard onstage during the 90kg women’s weightlifting final on Day Five of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games, after her transition
Abbott said not all social media interest was positive.
“We’ve certainly seen a tidal wave of comments about it and a lot of it is inappropriate,” she told reporters. “Our vision is that we have a culture of manaaki (inclusion) and our role is to support all eligible athletes on our team.
‘We don’t engage in any negative debate in the field of social media.’
While acknowledging that Hubbard’s outward appearance raised complex issues, Abbott also noted, “We all need to remember that there’s a person behind all these technical questions.”
“As an organization, we want to protect our athlete, or any athlete for that matter, from anything negative on social media,” she said.
“We do not condone cyberbullying in any way.”
SPORTY GLORY TO CRASH SHAME
New Zealand professional weightlifter Laurel Hubbard could make history by becoming the first transgender woman to compete in this year’s Olympics in Tokyo.
The intensely private athlete was born in 1978 as the son of Dick Hubbard – a former mayor of Auckland City and founder of Hubbard Foods.
Before switching, she competed under the name Gavin, and in 1998 she set New Zealand junior records in the then newly created M105+ weightlifting division with a 135kg tug and a clean tug of 170kg – a total of 300kg.
In 2012, she was named Executive Officer for Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand, and in the same year she transitioned to a woman and became Laurel Hubbard.
In 2017, she won the gold medal at the Australian International & Australian Open in Melbourne, becoming the first trans woman to win an international weightlifting title for New Zealand.
Since 2017, she has competed in a number of weightlifting tournaments, including the World Championships, Commonwealth Games, Oceania Championships, Commonwealth Championships, Pacific Games, Arafura Games and World Masters Games.
Of these tournaments, she won six gold medals and one silver at various events, and the most won gold at the Rome 2020 Weightlifting World Cup, with a total lift of 270 kg – six pounds more than silver and 45 pounds more than bronze.
Her wins have drawn criticism from other female athletes who have complained that the competition is unfair despite her being eligible to compete.
Hubbard rarely gives interviews but told Radio New Zealand in 2017 that she just wanted to get involved in the sport she loves and had “blocked” criticism.
“When I try to carry that weight, it just makes it harder to lift… I am who I am,” she said. I don’t want to change the world. I just want to be myself and do what I do.’
Hubbard also caused controversy when she was involved in a car accident near Queenstown on October 24, 2018, in which two people were seriously injured.
She was charged with careless driving and causing serious injury when her car crossed the road on a sharp bend and hit a vehicle carrying an elderly Australian couple.
Gary Wells, 69, spent nearly two weeks in the hospital for nearly two weeks and required major spinal surgery, while his wife, Sue Wells, suffered several broken ribs.
The victims have since spoken of how appalled at the lenient sentence given to Hubbard after she was discharged without conviction, ordered to pay about $13,000 and banned from driving for a month.