As debate continues in the United States over whether transgender student-athletes should be allowed to compete in girls' and women's sports, the New Zealand Olympic Committee announced Monday that Laurel Hubbard would compete for her country in the women's super-heavyweight 87-kg category at the upcoming Olympic Games in Tokyo on July 23.
As reported by the Daily Mail, Hubbard competed as a man until she transitioned in 2013 at age 35 and now will become the first transgender athlete to compete in an Olympics. The 43-year-old Hubbard said she was humbled by her selection and that it had been a long journey to reach this point. "I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders," she said.
At the same time, international athletes and health professionals are divided over Hubbard competing in women's categories with some claiming she will have an unfair advantage.
Hubbard became eligible to compete in the Olympics when new guidelines were set by the International Olympic Committee in 2015. The IOC policy specifies conditions under which those who transition from male to female are eligible to compete in the female category.
Among them is that the athlete has declared that her gender identity is female and that the declaration cannot be changed, for sporting purposes, for a minimum of four years. The committee also announced any transgender athlete could compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels were below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition. Hubbard met those standards, according to the Daily Mail.
Some within the weightlifting community argue the policy does not guarantee fair competition. The determining criteria — a maximum reading of 10 nanomoles per liter of testosterone — is as least five times more than a biological woman. Some scientists have also said the guidelines do little to mitigate the biological advantages of those who have gone through puberty as males, including bone and muscle density, the Daily Mail reported.
Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen, who will likely compete against Hubbard, said allowing Hubbard to compete in the women's event at the Tokyo Olympics is unfair and likened the situation to "a bad joke."
"Anyone that has trained weightlifting at a high level knows this to be true in their bones: this particular situation is unfair to the sport and to the athletes," Vanbellinghen said. "Life-changing opportunities are missed for some athletes — medals and Olympic qualifications — and we are powerless. Of course, this debate is taking place in a broader context of discrimination against transgender people and that is why the question is never free of ideology."
Beth Stelzer, an amateur powerlifter from Minnesota who set up charity Save Women's Sport, said the move to allow Hubbard to compete in the women's weightlifting category was "shameful."
She told MailOnline: "What the Olympics is doing by allowing males to compete in the women’s category is not only shameful but a mockery of sport. We cannot change our sex.
"A male cannot become a female by lowering their Testosterone, women are not a hormone level."
Stelzer added, "Identities do not play sports, bodies play sports. The rights of females should not end where the feelings of a few males begin. We need to stop complying with these lies and start supporting females."
New Zealand Olympic Committee chief executive Kereyn Smith stepped in to defend Hubbard, stating that Hubbard met IOC and International Weightlifting Federation selection criteria.
"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," Smith said. "As the New Zealand Team, we have a strong culture of manaaki [hospitality] and inclusion and respect for all."