New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern defended Tuesday the selection of transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard to compete in the Tokyo Olympics, weighing in on the fraught debate between discrimination and fairness in women’s athletics.
“Parties here have simply followed the rules,” Ardern told reporters in Wellington, as shown on TVNZ 1News. “That’s the case for Laurel but also the team in New Zealand — they have followed the rules.”
Hubbard, 43, became the first openly male-to-female transgender athlete to be chosen for an Olympic team Sunday when the New Zealand Olympic Committee named her to represent the nation in the women’s super-heavyweight 87+kg (192 lbs.) division.
Both the International Olympic Committee and International Weightlifting Federation allow transgender athletes to participate in women’s events as long as they keep their serum testosterone below 10 nanomales per liter for 12 months prior to their first competition.
They are also required to declare their gender identity as female for at least four years under the IOC guidelines issued in 2015, which are used by the IWF.
“The alternative is to have someone who’s followed the rules but then is denied the ability to participate,” Ardern said. “And so, ultimately, I leave it to those bodies, and it’s the decision they’ve made, and it’s keeping in with the standard that’s been set globally.”
The New Zealander transitioned at age 35 and reached the top ranks of international women’s weightlifting after a solid but unspectacular career as a men’s junior lifter.
Women’s sports groups have decried the decision, arguing that post-pubescent males have significant physical advantages over women even if they lower their testosterone, while LGBTQ groups cheered the decision as a historic breakthrough.
Lorraine Moller, a former marathon runner and four-time Olympian who won a bronze medal in the 1992 Olympic Games for New Zealand, said that Hubbard‘s selection set a “really dangerous precedent.
“There are people arguing that there is overlap between men’s and women’s performances, but the point is women have their own category because when it comes to championship level, they just simply cannot compete against the men,” Moller said on Fox News. “For example, I would never have made an Olympic team, let alone stand on the podium, if men had been included in the category.”
Even the recommended IOC testosterone limit of 10 nanomales per liter for transgender athletes is still four to five times higher than the amount of naturally occurring testosterone in women.
“Most females (including elite female athletes) have low levels of testosterone circulating naturally in their bodies (0.12 to 1.79 nmol/L in blood); while after puberty the normal male range is much higher (7.7 – 29.4 nmol/L),” said World Athletics, the governing body for track and field, in 2018.
The Tokyo Olympics are scheduled for July 23-Aug. 8 after being postponed a year for the novel coronavirus pandemic.