Transgender Woman Who Used To Compete As a Man Will Become First Transgender Olympian

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In a controversial decision, New Zealand officials selected Laurel Hubbard to compete in the women’s weightlifting team in Tokyo 2020, making her the first ever transgender athlete selected to compete in the Olympics.

Hubbard previously competed in men’s events before she came out as transgender in 2013.

In a statement issued by the New Zealand Olympic Committee on Monday, Hubbard said: "I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders."

Hubbard will be competing in the women's 87 kg weightlifting category.

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Hubbard’s eligibility to compete at the Olympics follows the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) 2015 rule allowing transgender athletes to compete in the women’s category if their testosterone levels are below a certain threshold.

However, critics maintain that even if Hubbard’s testosterone levels are below the threshold, her participation in the Olympics remains unfair for the female-born athletes.

Critics have pointed out the biological advantages of individuals who went through puberty as males, including bone and muscle density.

Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen, who will be competing in the same category, said last month that Hubbard competing in Tokyo would be unfair for women and "like a bad joke."

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She expressed her full support for the transgender community, but maintained that the principle of inclusion shouldn’t be "at the expense of others."

Vanbellinghen said in May: "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."

Hubbard’s selection has been criticized by Save Women's Sport Australasia, an advocacy group arguing against transgender athletes competing in women's events.

The group stated, "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," ahead of Monday's decision.

However, New Zealand's government and its top sporting body have supported Hubbard’s inclusion in the upcoming Olympics.

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New Zealand Olympic Committee chief executive Kereyn Smith stated: "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."

He added: "As the New Zealand team, we have a strong culture of 'manaaki' (respect) and inclusion and respect for all."

Richie Patterson, head of Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand, stated that Hubbard had shown "grit and perseverance" as she recovered from her 2018 career-threatening injury.

"We look forward to supporting her in her final preparations towards Tokyo," he added.

Sources: BBC