Transgender Laurel Hubbard’s Olympic selection raises a hubbub

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 Games, a decision set to fuel the debate over inclusion and fairness in sport.

Hubbard will compete in the super-heavyweight 87kg category, her selection made possible by updated qualifying requirements.

The 43-year-old, who will be the oldest lifter at the Games, had competed in men's weightlifting competitions before transitioning in 2013.

"I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders," Hubbard said in a statement issued by the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) yesterday.

Hubbard has been eligible to compete at the Olympics since 2015, when the International Olympic Committee (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.

Some scientists have said the guidelines 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 that the process of transition decreases that advantage considerably and that physical differences between athletes mean there is never a truly level playing field.

NZOC chief executive Kereyn Smith said Hubbard met IOC and the International Weightlifting Federation's selection criteria, adding that they have a strong culture of "inclusion and respect for all".

But Save Women's Sports Australasia, an advocacy group for women athletes, criticised the IOC for allowing a 43-year-old biological male who identifies as a woman to compete in the female category.

Belgian weightlifter Anna Van Bellinghen said last month that allowing Hubbard to compete at Tokyo 2020 felt "like a bad joke". - REUTERS