Laurel Hubbard is set to become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics. The super-heavyweight competed in men’s amateur weightlifting competitions prior to her 2013 transition but has since become qualified for elite-level competitions like the Olympics due to rule changes that came into effect in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
It’s down to a revised qualification system. In a statement, the New Zealand Olympic Committee confirmed that Hubbard would likely become eligible to compete in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics, which were postponed last summer to July 2021, due to the changes. “The NZOC can confirm that revised International Federation (IF) qualification systems are very likely to see a number of New Zealand weightlifters, including Commonwealth Games transgender athlete Laurel Hubbard, allocated an IF quota spot for Tokyo 2020. A previous requirement to attend six competition events has been reduced to four due to the impact of COVID-19.”
Technically speaking, Hubbard has been eligible for years. The International Olympic Committee put out guidelines on transgender athletes in 2015, but as Hubbard explained, just because she was technically allowed to compete didn’t mean that the athletic world would have been welcoming. “The rules that enabled me to compete first went into effect in 2003. They are known as the Stockholm consensus with the IOC but I think even 10 years ago the world perhaps wasn’t ready for an athlete like myself – and perhaps it is not ready now,” she said in a 2017 interview. “But I got the sense at least that people were willing to consider me for these competitions and it seemed like the right time to put the boots on and hit the platform.”
The inclusion of transgender athletes in female sports is still controversial. While many states in America have been passing legislation preventing transgender students from competing in female athletics, there has been a push to allow athletes to compete with their chosen gender. While IOC guidelines allow transgender women who have testosterone levels below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months to compete in female sports, some scientific papers have suggested that those who have undergone male puberty still have advantages in terms of strength and power despite testosterone-suppressing medication.
Whatever your beliefs, Laurel Hubbard is set to make history. Becoming the first transgender at the Olympics is a monumental moment in history. She may be the first but she likely won’t be the last. Best of luck to her!
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