New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard is on the way to becoming the first transgender athlete to compete in the Olympics after meeting the revised qualification requirements for the Tokyo Games.
The New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) said the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) has revised its playoffs due to the impact of COVID-19, placing Hubbard in the context of choosing Tokyo.
“The committee can confirm that the revised International Federation qualification (IF) regulations are very likely to see a number of New Zealand weightlifters, including Commonwealth Games transgender athlete Laurel Hubbard, allocate an IF quota in Tokyo 2020,” the committee said in a statement.
“The previous requirement to attend six competition events has been reduced to four due to the impact of COVID-19.”
Hubbard, 43, competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before moving in in 2013.
It has been eligible to compete in the Olympics since 2015, when the International Olympic Committee issued guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months before the first competition.
Some scientists have criticized these guidelines, saying they do little to mitigate the biological benefits of those who have gone through puberty as males, including bone and muscle density.
“The International Olympic Committee is committed to inclusion in the Olympic movement and recognizes that all athletes, regardless of their gender identity or sexual characteristics, must participate in safe and fair competition,” the International Olympic Committee said in a statement.
“Realizing that there is a palpable tension between equity / safety and inclusion / non-discrimination … the International Olympic Committee decided in October 2019 to work on a new comprehensive, rights-respecting approach to address the complexity of this issue.
“The International Olympic Committee is currently developing new guidelines to help ensure that athletes – regardless of their gender identity and / or sexual characteristics – can participate in safe and fair competition.”
Advocates of transgender inclusion argue that the transition significantly reduces this advantage and that the physical differences between athletes mean that there is no truly equal playing field in the sport.
NZOC said it does not expect to be nominated and selected for its weightlifting team until June, when it has its final list of qualified IWF athletes.
The committee added: “Before that, all athletes must provide evidence of their ability to reach the top 16 in the games, with the possibility of achieving the first eight places.”
New Zealand, the national weightlifting authority, did not immediately make any comment when contacted by Reuters, but was a staunch supporter of Hubbard’s right to lift weights in the women’s competition.
Weightlifting has been at the center of the debate over the justice of transgender athletes competing in women’s sports, and Hubbard’s presence in Tokyo may be divisive.
Her gold medal victory at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, where she topped the podium ahead of Commonwealth Games champion in Samoa Feagaiga Stowers, sparked outrage in the island nation.
The Australian Weightlifting Federation sought to ban Hubbard from competing in the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, but the move was rejected by the organizers.
Weightlifters and coaches competing at the Commonwealth Games have also complained. Hubbard withdrew from the tournament after injuring herself with a lift, which allowed Stors to claim a gold medal in the 90 + kg division.
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