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Laurel Hubbard set to become first openly transgender Olympian after being cleared by IOC

International Olympic Committee has confirmed Hubbard is eligible to compete and added that no rules will be changed during the competition.

Laurel Hubbard set to become first openly transgender Olympian after being cleared by IOC
GOLD COAST, AUSTRALIA - APRIL 09: Laurel Hubbard of New Zealand competes in the Women's +90kg Final during the Weightlifting on day five of the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth Games at Carrara Sports and Leisure Centre on April 9, 2018 on the Gold Coast, Aus

Laurel Hubbard is all set to be the first-ever openly transgender athlete to participate in the Olympics. The 43-year-old Team New Zealand weightlifter has been cleared for participation in the Tokyo Olympics by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) amidst debate and controversy. IOC upheld the rules and added that the rules cannot be changed during the competition. "The rules for qualification have been established by the International Weightlifting Federation before the qualifications started," said IOC President Thomas Bach during a news conference, reported Reuters, before adding that it would reevaluate the policy in the future. "These rules apply, and you cannot change rules during ongoing competitions." 

AUCKLAND, NEW ZEALAND - DECEMBER 08: Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard poses during a portrait session on December 8, 2017 in Auckland, New Zealand. (Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Hubbard, who had competed in men's weightlifting competitions before transitioning in 2013, made history when she qualified for the women's 87-kilogram event in May. Many were critical of her win, claiming without basis that she had an unfair advantage. "At the same time, the IOC is in an inquiry phase with all different stakeholders... to review these rules and finally to come up with some guidelines which cannot be rules because this is a question where there is no one-size-fits-all solution," said Bach. "It differs from sport to sport."


As per the rules issues by IOC in 2015, a transgender athlete can compete as a woman if their testosterone levels remain below 10 nanomoles per liter for at least 12 months ahead of their first competition. Bach maintained that IOC wasn't going to tweak the rules by which athletes had been abiding. "The rules are in place and the rules have to be applied and you cannot change the rules during an ongoing qualification system," Bach explained. "This is what all the athletes of the world are relying on: that the rules are being applied." The Tokyo Olympics is set to start on July 23.


It's not the first time Laurel Hubbard has been targeted over her gender identity. In 2018, the Australian weightlifting association tried to block her from competing in the Commonwealth Games but failed to. She has also been subjected to criticism from her peers after Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen spoke out against Hubbard's Olympic eligibility, claiming it was "unfair" and "like a bad joke." Hubbard said it was not her goal to change people's minds but hoped they would be more supportive of her. "It's not my role or my goal to change people's minds," Hubbard said to Radio New Zealand in 2017. "I would hope they would support me, but it's not for me to make them do so," said Hubbard to Radio New Zealand in 2017.


Sport and Olympics have a long way to go before becoming more inclusive to transgender athletes. Kristen Worley, a Canadian cyclist was the first athlete to undergo an Olympic gender verification process when she tried to represent Canada in track cycling at the 2008 Olympics in Beijing. She said the process was humiliating. She had a physical examination in a room with four men — two sport administrators, one lawyer, and one emergency doctor. Worley shared the details in her book Women Enough. "They viewed me as a threat to sport. At best, I was trying to cheat; at worse, I was a freak. They felt utterly entitled to ask me embarrassing, intimate questions about the details of my surgeries, and talk openly about my body in front of me, as if I wasn't there," she wrote.  The whole process was so traumatizing that she quit cycling and gave up on her career. "When you're violated in that way ... you never forget it. You just learn how to manage it," she said. The way her gender identity was publicly discussed traumatized her. "It made me feel like I was less than half a human being," she said.



Hubbard doesn't really engage with the criticism and has been focusing on herself ahead of the Tokyo games. She has received support back home and released a statement saying she has been "humbled by the kindness and support" from her countrymen. Hubbard doesn't like the spotlight and was even absent from New Zealand's Olympic weightlifting team's celebratory photoshoot, reported CNN. Many believe she'll serve as an inspiration for transgender athletes, whose representation in sport is minimal. 

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