New Zealander Laurel Hubbard, 43, will make history when she becomes the first transgender athlete to compete in the history of the Olympic Games.
Hubbard will take part in the women’s 87kg weightlifting on Monday 2 August at the Tokyo International Forum and will be up against Team GB’s Emily Campbell, amongst others.
“I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders,” she said in a statement in response to her selection by her country as part of a five-woman squad.
“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’ [love] 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 to all of you and I will wear it with pride.”
Assigned male gender at birth, Hubbard set national records in junior competition under her given name before undergoing hormone therapy and coming out as trans in 2013, aged 35.
Since then, she has won a silver medal at the 2017 World Championships, sustained the aforementioned injury at the Commonwealth Games before roaring back to triumph with a gold at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa.
Hubbard subsequently met all of the requirements of the International Olympic Committee’s (IOC) regulations for trans athletes to permit her participation in the Tokyo Games.
Among the IOC’s rules is a stipulation that the athlete in question has declared her gender identity is female and that that declaration has not been changed, for sporting purposes, for a minimum of four years.
Another says the athlete must demonstrate that her total testosterone level is below a specific measurement for at least 12 months prior to her first competition.
While Hubbard met those standards, the IOC policy also states: “The overriding sporting objective is and remains the guarantee of fair competition.”
It is this last condition that has prompted significant opposition to her taking part in some quarters, with her opponents arguing that Hubbard still has an unfair physical advantage in weightlifting.
Belgium’s Anna Van Bellinghen, who will likely compete against Hubbard, said the New Zealander’s presence in Tokyo would be “like a bad joke” for women competitors.
“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,” Van Bellinghen 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.”
But the New Zealand Olympic Committee has stood by Hubbard on the issue, saying in a statement: “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 [hospitality] 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.”
The daughter of a former mayor of Auckland, Laurel Hubbard’s Olympic debut will certainly be eagerly anticipated around the world.