New Zealand's Laurel Hubbard will become the first ever transgender athlete to compete at an Olympics, having been selected for her nation's Tokyo 2020 weightlifting team.
Hubbard, 43, will now compete in the women's 87kg weightlifting category.
"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 on Monday.
“When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was advised that my sporting career had likely reached its end. But your support, your encouragement, and your ‘aroha’ [affection] carried me through the darkness.
“The last 18 months has shown us all that there is strength in kinship, in community, and in working together towards a common purpose. The ‘mana’ [honour] of the silver fern comes from all of you and I will wear it with pride.”
Hubbard is eligible to compete at the Olympics thanks to a rule change made by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) in 2015.
The change means that athletes who transition from male to female can compete as women as long as their testosterone levels stay below a certain threshold – 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months.
However, the decision to allow athletes like Hubbard to compete as women is a controversial one.
Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen, who will compete in the same category, said that if Hubbard were to make it to Tokyo it would be unfair for women and "like a bad joke".
That's not a view shared by the New Zealand Olympic Committee, whose chief executive, Kereyn Smith, said Hubbard would be a welcome addition to the New Zealand team.
“As well as being among the world’s best for her event, Laurel has met the IWF eligibility criteria including those based on IOC guidelines for transgender athletes,” she said. “We acknowledge that gender identity in sport is a highly sensitive and complex issue requiring a balance between human rights and fairness on the field of play.
“As the New Zealand team, we have a strong culture of ‘manaaki’ [respect] and inclusion and respect for all. We are committed to supporting all eligible New Zealand athletes and ensuring their mental and physical wellbeing, along with their high-performance needs, while preparing for and competing at the Olympic Games are met.”
Meanwhile, New Zealand's weightlifting federation president, Richie Patterson, said Hubbard had shown “grit and perseverance in her return from a significant injury and overcoming the challenges in building back confidence on the competition platform”.
”Laurel is an astute student of the sport and technically very good with the lifts. We look forward to supporting her in her final preparations towards Tokyo,” said Patterson.
Whether trans athletes retain an advantage over their cis counterparts remains a complicated issue.
A study published in the British Journal of Sports Medicine last year reported trans women retained a 12% advantage in running tests even after taking hormones for two years to suppress their testosterone. However, the study also found that after two years the differences in press-up and sit-up performance had disappeared.
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