New Zealand has named weightlifter Laurel Hubbard in its women’s weightlifting team for the Tokyo Olympic Games. Forty-three year old Hubbard will be the first openly transgender athlete to compete in the Olympic Games, following modification of qualifying rules.

At 43, Hubbard may be on the older end of the scale to participate in the Olympics and will be the fourth oldest weightlifter who is a bona fide medal seeker in her performance as a super heavyweight participating in the 87kg-plus category at the Tokyo games. 

“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.

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“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’ (affection) 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,” said Hubbard.

IOC Guidelines On Trans Athletes

Hubbard had competed in the men’s weightlifting events before transitioning in 2013 and has been eligible to compete since 2015 when the International Olympic Committee’s changed its guidelines with regard to transgender athletes.

The guidelines say that athletes who transition from male to female can compete in the women’s category without requiring surgery to remove their testes – provided their total testosterone level in serum is kept below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months.

In 2017, Hubbard took home the silver from the Women’s World Championships and then made a comeback to the game after a major injury in 2018. 

Hubbard’s inclusion has been welcomed by the LGBTQI+ community.

Transphobia On Social Media

The welcome has not been universal though, especially on social media, with many, including Piers Morgan,  fanning transphobia.

One of Hubbard’s competitors, Belgian super-heavyweight weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen, had previously claimed her participation “feels like a bad joke” and she will have an unfair advantage.

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Some claimed that Hubbard’s selection this selection has effected cis gendered competitors, such as 21-year-old Tongan weightlifter, Kuinini Manumua, who would have otherwise qualified for the Tokyo Olympics.

New Zealand Olympics Team Backs Transgender Athlete

The New Zealand Olympic Committee has stood by its decision. Chief executive, Kereyn Smith pointed out that  Hubbard was selected after having met the IOC eligibility criteria.

“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‘ (respect) and inclusion and respect for all,” added Smith.

Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand President Richie Patterson pointed out that Hubbard had “shown grit and perseverance in her return from a significant injury and overcoming the challenges in building back confidence on the competition platform.”

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