By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)
On the heels of the announcement of the five athletes for New Zealand’s Olympic Weightlifting Team, as expected the list included transgender athlete, Laurel Hubbard. Hubbard’s achievement came after a competition accident in which she broke her arm in 2018, and with the postponement of the 2020 games due to the pandemic, gave Hubbard the opportunity to heal and make a strong comeback in 2019 and throughout 2020. She has since been declared eligible to compete at the Olympics based on the criteria of the International Weightlifting Federation, International Olympic Committee and New Zealand Olympic Committee, including their criteria regarding transgender athletes.
As a transgender athlete, and the first of whom to qualify for the Olympic games, the discussions surrounding her personal life and eligibility often quickly devolve into hateful, vile, and transphobic arguments. Hubbard herself prefers to stay out of these discussions and instead focuses on her own personal development as an individual and as an athlete. However, in the announcement itself, Hubbard shared a statement,
“I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders,” said Hubbard. “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 carried me through the darkness.
“The last eighteen months has shown us all that there is strength in kinship, in community, and in working together towards a common purpose. The mana of the silver fern comes from all of you, and I will wear it with pride.”
Since the announcement, the same media personalities, outspoken individuals, and political commentators, most of whom have very little, if any knowledge regarding human biology, anatomy, physiology, exercise/sport science or understanding of the transition process, continue to use the same talking points to express their disapproval toward athletes like Hubbard competing. However, there is still no valid scientific evidence supporting their arguments and, despite transgender athletes being allowed to compete at the Olympics since 2003, only in 2021 is there finally an athlete that has met the qualification criteria. For the people who have a say in that, particularly NZOC CEO Kereyn Smith been supportive toward Hubbard’s accomplishment,
As well as being among the world’s best for her event, Laurel has met the IWF eligibility criteria including those based on IOC Consensus Statement guidelines for transgender athletes,” Smith says. 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 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.”
Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand President, Richie Patterson shared similar remarks of support,
“Laurel has shown grit and perseverance in her return from a significant injury and overcoming the challenges in building back confidence on the competition platform,” said Patterson. “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.”
The Tokyo Olympics opening ceremonies kick off on Friday, July 23rd with the weightlifting competition itself running from July 24th to August 4th.