Laurel Hubbard's selection to New Zealand's squad for the Tokyo Olympics has opened a wider conversation on the participation of transgender athletes at major sporting events.
Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard has been selected to represent New Zealand at the Tokyo Olympics, becoming the first transgender athlete to compete at the Games.
One of five weightlifters confirmed on Monday to represent New Zealand at Tokyo, Hubbard is also the oldest weightlifter at the games at the age of 43. She will compete in the super-heavyweight 87-kg 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 (NZOC).
"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 [love] carried me through the darkness," she said.
Hubbard competed under her birth name Gavin Hubbard before transitioning in 2013 at the age of 35.
She has met all requirements under the International Olympic Committee's (IOC) regulations for transgender athletes and fair competition since then. This policy underlines the conditions under which athletes who transition from male to female can compete in the female category.
The athlete must declare her gender identity as female and keep it so for a minimum of four years for sporting purposes. She must also provide evidence that her testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least a year before her first competition.
However, critics argue these testosterone levels are still over five times higher than what is considered normal for a biological woman.
Hubbard has met IOC and the International Weightlifting Federation's selection criteria for athletes, according to NZOC CEO Kereyn Smith.
"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 [...] inclusion and respect for all."
But some other female athletes view the selection as an assault on their chances of winning a medal at the Olympics.
Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen has said allowing Hubbard to compete at Tokyo was "like a bad joke" for female athletes. While acknowledging that it was difficult to set guidelines for transgender participation in sports, she also noted that "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."
An advocacy group for female athletes, called Save Women’s Sport Australasia, also criticized Hubbard's selection. In a statement, the group said, "It is flawed policy from the IOC that has allowed the selection of a 43-year-old biological male who identifies as a woman to compete in the female category."
Hubbard did not refer to the controversy in her latest statement. Previously, however, she appealed to the public to keep an open mind.
"All you can do is focus on the task at hand, and if you keep doing that it will get you through," Hubbard said in a 2017 interview to news website Stuff. "I'm mindful I won't be supported by everyone, but I hope that people can keep an open mind and perhaps look at my performance in a broader context."
"Perhaps the fact that it has taken so long for someone like myself to come through indicates that some of the problems that people are suggesting aren't what they might seem," she added.
see/dj (Reuters, AP)