New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard has been hailed as a transgender pioneer after her short-lived Olympic debut, but Games chiefs continue to grapple with the thorny issues raised by her landmark appearance.
Hubbard’s long-awaited medal bid in the +87kg category ended in an anti-climatic fashion at the Tokyo International Forum on Monday when she was eliminated after missing her first three tricks.
The 43-year-old later admitted that she had been ‘overwhelmed’ during her moment in the limelight, which has been described by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) as the first appearance of an openly transgender woman at the Olympics.
“Competing at this level releases a certain amount of adrenaline and I think maybe I overcooked it a little bit,” she told TVNZ.
Trans advocates have said her presence on the biggest sports scene, however brief, has always made history and paved the way for more athletes who don’t fit into a binary male-female framework.
“Congratulations to Laurel Hubbard. She may not have won a medal, but to qualify for the Olympics is an incredible achievement, ”tweeted British trans and academic author Ruth Pearce.
“As a trans athlete competing under intense and unfair scrutiny, she has helped make history. “
Prominent Australian activist Kirsti Miller said Hubbard’s appearance meant “the tide has turned” in favor of inclusion in sport.
“The IOC has adopted a basic policy that sports competition is a human right for all, regardless of how we are born or who we are,” she said.
# photo1 However, the debate still rages on whether to include trans athletes in women’s sport, with the IOC preparing to issue new guidelines on these issues once the Tokyo Games are over.
– ‘Big advantage?’ –
Critics argue that athletes such as Hubbard, who was born male and became female in his thirties, have physical benefits ingrained in their bodies during their formative years.
These include increased muscle mass and lung capacity, leading to concerns that born female athletes will be forced to compete on an uneven playing field.
Even the New Zealand Olympic Committee, which took comprehensive action to protect and support Hubbard during his time in Tokyo, acknowledged that the issue remained unresolved after it emerged.
“We recognize that gender identity in sport is a very sensitive and complex issue requiring a balance between human rights and fairness on the playing field,” he said.
The IOC, under guidelines adopted in 2003, only allowed transgender participation to athletes with gender reassignment surgery, but dropped the requirement in 2015, focusing instead on lower testosterone levels.
He indicates that the next directives – which will serve as a framework for sports federations rather than offering strict rules – would attempt to balance fairness, inclusion and safety.
Belgian athlete Anna Vanbellinghen, a rival to Hubbard in the +87kg category, strongly criticized Hubbard’s inclusion and said the current rules favor trans women.
She did not believe the revised guidelines would resolve the issue, predicting it would take time and a willingness to compromise on all sides.
“You can’t go from one extreme to the other and vice versa. Little by little, if we can find better, I will be satisfied, ”she declared.
“Of course, I’m not against compromise, but the rules as they are give a really big advantage (to trans women), so it’s good that they are revised. “
© 2021 AFP