Laurel Hubbard will become the first transgender athlete to compete at an Olympics after being selected for the New Zealand women's weightlifting team at Tokyo 2020.
Hubbard transitioned in 2013 at the age of 35. She has met all of the requirements of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) regulations for trans athletes and fair competition since 2015, when the IOC changed its guidelines.
The IOC policy specifies conditions under which those who transition from male to female are eligible to compete in the female category.
The policy says 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 athlete must also demonstrate that her total testosterone (a hormone that increases muscle mass) level is below a specific measurement for at least 12 months prior to her first competition.
While the athlete's testosterone levels are below that threshold, critics say her participation in the Olympics is still unfair for female-born athletes. The determining criteria — a maximum reading of 10 nanomoles per liter of testosterone — is as least five times more than a biological woman.
A number of scientific papers have recently shown people who have undergone male puberty retain significant advantages in power and strength even after taking medication to suppress their testosterone levels.
Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen, who is competing in the same category, said that while she fully supported the transgender community, the principle of inclusion should not be "at the expense of others".
“I am aware that defining a legal frame for transgender participation in sports is very difficult since there is an infinite variety of situations and that reaching an entirely satisfactory solution, from either side of the debate, is probably impossible,” Vanbellinghen has said. “However, 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.
“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.”
Save Women's Sport Australasia, an advocacy group arguing against transgender athletes to compete in women's competitions has also criticised Hubbard's selection for the Tokyo Games.
"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," the group said in a statement ahead of Monday's decision.
New Zealand Olympics Committee CEO Kereyn Smith said Hubbard will be welcomed 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 Consensus Statement guidelines for transgender athletes. 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.”
"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.
Hubbard won a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships and gold in the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa. She competed at the 2018 Commonwealth Games but sustained a serious injury that set back her career.
Competing as Gavin Hubbard, her birth name, Hubbard set national records in junior competition and had a best, combined snatch and clean and jerk total of 300 kilograms (661 pounds).