New Zealand Olympic officials on Friday vowed to protect transgender athlete Laurel Hubbard from a tsunami of negative social media comments as the weightlifter prepares to make history at the Tokyo Games.
Hubbard is set to become the first openly transgender woman at the Olympics when she competes in the +87kg category on Monday, sparking a heated online debate.
The 43-year-old was born male and competed as a male before becoming a female in her thirties, returning to sport at the elite level after meeting guidelines from the International Olympic Committee (IOC) for transgender athletes.
New Zealand Olympic Committee spokeswoman Ashley Abbott said Hubbard kept a low profile in Japan, despite the “particularly high level of interest” in his Olympic debut.
Abbott said not all the interest on social media has been positive.
“Certainly we have seen a wave of comments on this and many are inappropriate,” she told reporters.
“Our point of view is that we have a culture of manaaki (inclusion) and it is our role to support all eligible athletes on our team.
“In terms of social media, we will not participate in any type of negative debate. “
While acknowledging that Hubbard’s appearance raises complex issues, Abbott also stressed, “We all have to remember that there is one person behind all of these technical matters. “
“As an organization we would seek to protect our athlete, or any athlete, from anything negative in the social media space,” she said.
“We do not tolerate cyberbullying in any way. “
– “A difficult balancing act” –
The very private Hubbard has been a reluctant trailblazer, insisting in rare media interviews that she just wants to be left alone to continue her sport.
In a statement released by the NZOC on Friday, she said: “The Olympic Games are a global celebration of our hopes, ideals and values. I congratulate the IOC for its commitment to making sport inclusive and accessible. “
Hubbard entered the Games ranked 16th in the world, but is considered a reasonable chance for a medal, as the Covid-19 pandemic has prevented many higher-ranking rivals from attending.
A spokesperson for the International Weightlifting Federation said Hubbard would have no obligation to speak to reporters after his event.
Critics argue that Hubbard has an unfair advantage over his rivals due to physical attributes locked into his body during his formative years as a man.
Supporters say her appearance is a victory for inclusion and trans rights.
Under current IOC guidelines, introduced in 2015, a trans woman can compete as long as her testosterone level is below 10 nanomoles per liter.
Previously, trans athletes had to undergo gender reassignment surgery followed by at least two years of hormone therapy.
The IOC is reviewing its guidelines, which should be published in the coming months.
IOC spokesperson Christian Klaue said the new framework would be an “evolution” that would certainly be revised again as more data on trans athletes became available.
“It will be a very difficult balancing act between all the different points that we have to take into account – equity, inclusion, security,” he said.
“There has to be a sweet spot to achieve what we need and wherever that sweet spot is, it will likely be criticized by some – it won’t be the ultimate solution. “
IOC Medical Director Richard Budgett expressed concern that trans athletes could dominate women’s sport, saying Hubbard was the only trans athlete to reach the Olympics since eligibility was opened for the first time in 2003.
“If you’re willing to extrapolate a bit from the evidence, there’s (and) consider the fact that there haven’t been any openly transgender women at the highest level so far, then I think the threat to women’s sport is probably overestimated, ”he said. .
© 2021 AFP