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Laurel Hubbard to become first transgender athlete to compete in Olympics

She has been selected to be part of New Zealand's team for the Tokyo Olympic Games and will compete in the women's super-heavyweight 87kg category.

Laurel Hubbard to become first transgender athlete to compete in Olympics
Cover Image Source: Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard poses during a portrait session on December 8, 2017, in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics after being selected to be part of New Zealand's team for the Tokyo Olympic Games. According to 7NEWS, the New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) said in a statement that Hubbard will compete in the women's super-heavyweight 87kg category with her selection being made possible by an update to qualifying requirements in May. The 43-year-old will also be the oldest weightlifter at the Olympics and will reportedly be ranked fourth in the women's heavyweight division. "I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders," Hubbard said in the statement.



Speaking to reporters, NZOC chief Kereyn Smith called Hubbard's selection a "historic moment in sport and for the New Zealand team." Although it has reignited the debate over inclusion and fairness in sport, Smith backed the athlete by pointing out that she deserved her place for "being among the world's best" in addition to meeting all eligibility criteria. "She is our first Olympian who has transitioned from male to female," she said, reports Reuters. "We do know that there are many questions about [the] fairness of transgender athletes competing in the Olympic Games but I would like to take this opportunity to remind us all that Laurel has met all of the required criteria."



"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," Smith added. "As the New Zealand team, we have a strong culture of 'manaaki' (respect) and inclusion and respect for all." Hubbard, who transitioned eight years ago at the age of 35, was the first transgender athlete to compete at the Commonwealth Games when she appeared in 2018 at the Gold Coast. She sustained a serious injury to her elbow and wrist during that competition which set back her career.



"When I broke my arm at the Commonwealth Games three years ago, I was advised that my sporting career had likely reached its end..." Hubbard said. "The last eighteen months has shown us all that there is strength in kinship, in community, and in working together towards a common purpose." She has been eligible to compete at Olympics since 2015 when the International Olympic Committee (IOC) updated its guidelines to allow any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months before their first competition.



But Hubbard's eligibility has been severely criticized by former athletes and other critics of the IOC's guidance on inclusion for transgender athletes, claiming that the guidelines do little to mitigate the biological "advantages" of those who have gone through puberty as males. Advocates for transgender inclusion, however, oppose this argument by pointing out that transitioning decreases this advantage considerably and that physical differences between athletes mean there is never truly a level playing field. The New Zealand government has also proclaimed support for Hubbard in the face of the widespread criticism directed her way.



"Laurel is a member of our Olympic team and has support from us," said Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. "All parties here have simply followed the rules. That's the case for Laurel but also the team in New Zealand, they have followed the rules." Sports Minister Grant Robertson said he was "extremely proud of Laurel Hubbard as I am of all of New Zealand's Olympic team. She deserves to be there and we'll be supporting her." Conservative opposition leader Judith Collins also offered her personal support to Hubbard. "Anybody who gets chosen to be an Olympic team member has already gone through a tremendous amount. I'm in awe of anybody who can get to that level," Collins said. "She is who she is and she's trying to do her very best. I'd hate to see any bullying or any horrible comments about Laurel because she's doing what she wants to do."

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