New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard is set to become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics, but a rival athlete has called Hubbard’s inclusion in the women’s field “unfair” and “like a bad joke.”
Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen is the first rival to speak out against Hubbard’s potential participation in the Games. Vanbellinghen said she supports the transgender community but raised questions whether Hubbard, who competes in the same over-87-kilogram division as Vanbellinghen, should compete.
“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,” Vanbellinghen told Olympics news website Inside The Games.
Hubbard transitioned from male to female as a 35-year-old. Now 43, she’s eligible to compete at the Olympics because of a rule change made in 2015 by the International Olympic Committee that allows a transgender athlete to compete as a woman should their testosterone levels be below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months before competing.
Hubbard must still pass the New Zealand Olympic Committee’s fitness and performance standards before she is selected for the Games, according to Reuters.
Hubbard has competed at a high level since 2017. She finished second and sixth in the world championships in 2017 and 2019, respectively. She won the gold medal at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa.
“I understand that for sports authorities nothing is as simple as following your common sense, and that there are a lot of impracticalities when studying such a rare phenomenon, but for athletes the whole thing feels like a bad joke,” Vanbellinghen said.
“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.
“However, the extreme nature of this particular situation really demonstrates the need to set up a stricter legal framework for transgender inclusion in sports, and especially elite sports. Because I do believe that everyone should have access to sports, but not at the expense of others.”
In 2018, Australia’s weightlifting federation aimed to prevent Hubbard from competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast, but organizers allowed Hubbard to lift.
USA Weightlifting said in early May the organization has no issue with Hubbard’s involvement at the Olympics.
“We respect the rules established by the International Weightlifting Federation and the International Olympic Committee for qualification and will be focusing on assisting our athletes to compete against all those who are qualified for the Tokyo Games,” spokesman Kevin Farley told Reuters.
There is growing disagreement over allowing transgender athletes to compete in women’s sports, and several states — such as Florida and West Virginia — have signed or are pushing to pass bills limiting the involvement of transgender athletes.
Now, that debate has hit the international stage, with Hubbard set to become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics — and with Vanbellinghen voicing her concern.