By Dirk Smith, M.Sc, SDL (He/Him)

Within the controversy and vitriol debate that often comes with the topic of transgender athletes participating in mainstream sports. To this day, not one openly transgender athlete has ever competed at the Olympic Games despite the International Olympic Committee (IOC) having a transgender inclusive participation policy since 2003. That might change this summer in Tokyo with New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard.

Hubbard has been competing in the women’s division as a member of the International Weightlifting Federation for several years, including winning silver at the 2017 world championship but was unfortunately sidelined at the 2018 Commonwealth Games due to a severe injury. Hubbard has since made a strong comeback at the 2019 world championships where placed 6th overall and went on to win gold at the 2019 Pacific Games. Despite expected controversy over her wins, the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) regulations make her fully eligible to compete in IWF sanctioned competitions. Patterned after the IOC regulations which state that transgender athletes competing in a women’s division must maintain serum testosterone levels under 10 nanomoles per liter at least 12 months prior to the competition and to maintain that level throughout the duration of the competition.

While the New Zealand team has not yet been officially selected and won’t be finalized until after July 5th, Hubbard has officially qualified for the games as an individual athlete based on the amended qualification rules that had been implemented because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Hubbard currently competes in the super heavyweight category and is ranked fourth out of the 14 qualifiers and is ranked 16th in the overall world rankings. Her chances of being named to the New Zealand team are quite strong.

Despite there being no scientifically valid evidence regarding any kind of performance advantage toward trans athletes in sport, the discussion and controversy regarding transgender athletes in sports continue to overwhelm political debates and often serve as a Red Herring fallacy to distract from more relevant issues. Despite this, more and more openly transgender athletes have made significant progress toward building representation of transgender and non-binary athletes in sports. Following the 2017 World Championships, Hubbard shared her thoughts,

“The rules that enabled me to compete first went into effect in 2003. They are known as the Stockholm Consensus with the IOC but I think even 10 years ago the world perhaps wasn’t ready for an athlete like myself – and perhaps it is not ready now. But I got the sense at least that people were willing to consider me for these competitions and it seemed like the right time to put the boots on and hit the platform.”

We will be rooting for Hubbard this summer and are looking forward to seeing her in Tokyo!

Photo by Russell Street via Wikimedia Commons