The reluctant history-maker at the centre of sport's transgender debate

The reluctant history-maker at the centre of sport's transgender debate

8/1/2021 6:54:00 PM

The reluctant history-maker at the centre of sport's transgender debate

Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard is set to become the first openly transgender athlete to compete in a different gender category to that which they were born at an Olympics.

Laurel Hubbard said this week: "I see the Olympic Games as a global celebration of our hopes, ideals and values and I would like to thank the IOC for its commitment to making sport inclusive and accessible.""I'm not here to change the world," said Laurel Hubbard in 2017, the year she first competed as a female weightlifter.

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"I just want to be me and do what I do," she told a reporter in her native New Zealand, after returning home with two silver medals from the World Championships.Two years later, her victory in the +87kg category at theexternal-linkin Samoa provoked accusations of unfairness - due to the fact she had lived as a man for the first three decades of her life before transitioning in 2012, coming out as a transgender woman aged 33, then resuming her sports career.

Since herexternal-linkin Anaheim four years ago, Hubbard has rarely spoken to the media - choosing to remove herself from the whirlwind gathering around her and the entire, often polarising, trans rights debate.In that 2017 interview, Hubbard said she hoped people would be understanding and open to her competing as a woman.

"People believe what they believe when they are shown something that may be new and different to what they know. It's instinctive to be defensive," she said."It's not really my job to change what they think, what they feel and what they believe. I just hope they look at the bigger picture, rather than just trusting whatever their gut may have told them."

On Monday she will become the first openly transgender athlete to compete in a different gender category to that which they were born at an Olympic Games.Who is Laurel Hubbard?As a junior, Hubbard was the national record holder and was lifting a total of 300kg in domestic men's competitions before quitting in 2001 at the age of 23.

She has since said: "It just became too much to bear... the pressure of trying to fit into a world that perhaps wasn't really set up for people like myself."Now 43, she will become the third oldest lifter in Olympic history. The New Zealand Olympic Committee's Ashley Abbott called her a "really important role model" who "opens a conversation about inclusivity".

"If you see someone like you achieving on the world stage, it's a really wonderful opportunity to see that there is a pathway," said Abbott.Since returning to competition, Hubbard has won seven international tournament gold medals.After suffering an elbow injury when leading the 2018 Commonwealth Games, she thought her career was over but battled back and won Pacific Games gold in 2019 and finished sixth at the Worlds.

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At Tokyo 2020 in the +87kg category she has a chance to add Olympic gold, though at present her world ranking and the weights she is lifting suggest she is an outside contender for the medal positions.Her best total in the Tokyo qualifying period of 285kg was the fourth highest of those eligible to compete - and is 50kg less than the best lift of China's Li Wenwen, the 21-year-old favourite.

Though changing the world may not be top of her agenda, Hubbard's selection as thefirst trans athletein an individual sport goes a long way towards changing centuries of sporting tradition."I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders," was the short, simple statement she made after her selection for the Games.

On Friday, the IOC released another statement on her behalf which read: "I see the Olympic Games as a global celebration of our hopes, ideals and values and I would like to thank the IOC for its commitment to making sport inclusive and accessible."

Abbott said Hubbard was "keeping a low profile" and told reporters on Friday she would be shielded from "anything negative in the social media space"."We all need to remember that there's a person behind all these technical questions," said Abbott.

At the same briefing, Richard Budgett - the medical and scientific director of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) - said: "Laurel Hubbard is a woman and is competing under the rules of her federation."We have to pay tribute to her courage and tenacity in qualifying for the Games."

So what are those rules?In 2004, the IOCpermittedtransgender athletes to take part in the Olympics.And since 2015, its stipulations have stated athletes who have transitioned from male to female can compete in women's sport - without requiring surgery - as long as they have declared their gender identity is female for at least four years and kept their testosterone level below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months.

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In addition, for individual sports, the IOC allows sporting federations to set their own guidelines. World Athletics has set five nanomoles per litre as its benchmark, and it is likely others, such as the International Weightlifting Federation will adopt the same, once an ongoing IOC study is completed.

According toexternal-linkmen's testosterone levels range between 10 and 30 nanomoles per litre dependant on factors including age and time of day, but a younger healthy male typically ranges between 20 and 30. Women's testosterone levels range between 0.7 and 2.8.

Hubbard and others must take hormone suppressing drugs to reduce their testosterone levels.Very few sporting bodies have created their own transgender policies despite the IOC framework encouraging them to do so. And the IOC's own rules are likely to undergo many revisions in the future.

Indeed, the Olympic body is currently reviewing its policy, telling the BBC it is working on "a new comprehensive and rights-respecting approach to address the complexity of this issue".Its consultation, the IOC says, will consider "not only medical, scientific and legal perspectives, but also that of human rights".

And what will emerge will be "suitable mechanisms, policies, and approaches to ensure inclusion, non-discrimination, fairness, proportionality, and safety for all athletes in each sport".As a reflection of the divergent approaches, last year World Rugby banned trans women from playing at the top level, saying studies showed significantly higher risk of injuries. The Rugby Football Union's domestic policy in England does allow trans women to play, under certain testosterone-based conditions.

Budgett defended the time being taken to produce updated transgender guidelines, saying it would have been "inappropriate" to publish a new framework just before the Olympics."There is lots of disagreement across the whole world of sport," Budgett said. "It really has to be sport specific and up to each sport, and even each discipline, as to what the rules are."

Hubbard competing in the +90kg final at the Gold Coast 2018 Commonwealth GamesThe science is debatedThe process of transitioning from male to female in itself significantly reduces testosterone, and studies have shown this impacts athleticism and strength.

"In the first months of transition I put on 10kg," Italian transgender sprinter Valentina Petrillorecently told the BBC."I can't eat the way I did before. I became anaemic, my haemoglobin is low, I'm always cold, I don't have the same physical strength, my sleep isn't what it was, I have mood swings."

The IOC's Budgett said: "There is a lot of research to ascertain the residual advantage after going through male puberty, but you have to weigh that against all the other disadvantages of going through transition. It is not something any individual would take lightly.

"There are lots of aspects of physiology and anatomy, and the mental side, that contribute to an elite performance, and it is very difficult to say: 'Yes, she has an advantage.' There are so many other factors to take into account."Budgett said more scientific research was needed for a better "evidence base" on the impact of trans women in sportbut added: "[Given] there's been no openly transgender women at the top level, until now, I think the threat to women's sports in general is probably overstated."

Budgett also said it was up to the "whole sporting movement" to continue to promote and protect women's sport, adding: "The IOC is determined to increase inclusion in sport as one of the fundamentals, but at the same time our highest, highest priority is fairness.

"Only where there's evidence of real concern - that that would lead to a disproportionate performance advantage for those individuals - should any rules and regulations come in to change that eligibility."Katherine Deves, co-founder of Save Women's Sport Australasia - a group opposed to transgender women competing in women's sport - describes testosterone reduction as

external-link"It is flawed policy from the IOC that has allowed the selection of a 43-year-old biological male who identifies as a woman to compete in the female category," Deves said, claiming transgender women would have an advantage in "every single metric" including "speed, stamina, strength, the fast twitch muscle, the bigger organs".

Deves also said trans women can have "faster recovery, stronger bones, and don't have a tilted pelvis so they're less likely to get knee and ankle injuries".The physiological differences established during puberty are widely accepted. Male puberty - which Hubbard would have gone through in her teens

-increases muscle mass.Sports scientist Professor Ross Tucker explains some of the other significant changes."When human males go through puberty … the heart becomes larger, the lungs become larger, the body fat percentage goes down, and the skeleton changes," he said.

"The collection of those things creates significant performance advantages [between men and women]. Those differences are between 10-12% in swimming and cycling."Then you get to sports like weightlifting, which involve upper body muscle strength, where the differences are even bigger. We're talking 30-40%."

Others disagree with Tucker's assertions.Joanna Harper is a trans woman and PhD researcher at Loughborough University who helped shape the current IOC policy."We don't know for certain whether transgender women are pound for pound stronger than cis gender women," says Harper. "That's something that hasn't been determined yet. It's possible, but it's not clear.

"Even after hormone therapy, transgender women will on average be taller, bigger and stronger than cis gender women. And those are advantages in many sports, [but] we allow advantages in sport. What we don't allow is overwhelming advantage."In weightlifting we divide the categories into weight, so we don't have big weightlifters competing against little weightlifters. If you look at the women that Laurel Hubbard is competing against, they're all very large women.

"I believe that if a trans woman lowers her testosterone to female levels and keeps them that way for a period of a year or more then that trans woman should be allowed to compete at an Olympics."Hubbard won two silver medals at the International Weightlifting Federation World Championships in 2017

Those for and against...Hubbard has received support from New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern. And her Olympic weightlifting rival, Australia's Charisma Amoe-Tarrant, said: "I have so much respect for her. I just wish her well."

Britain's Emily Campbell, another who will compete against Hubbard in Tokyo, said in 2018: "I believe everyone should be able to do something they love and she qualified in her own right like the rest of us girls."Everyone has been very opinionated about it but I think everyone is kind of forgetting about her feelings."

Others have criticised her inclusion, including those impacted by the IOC ruling.Kiwi weightlifter Tracey Lambrechsexternal-linkhaving to make way to Hubbard for a spot at the 2018 Commonwealth Games as "heart-breaking" and "soul-destroying".

And Belgian weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen has called Hubbard's selection for the Olympics unfair, and "like a bad joke", saying athletes were "powerless" as they missed out on "life-changing opportunities".Three other out trans athletes are competing in Tokyo - footballer Quinn, skateboarder Alana Smith and BMX cyclist Chelsea Wolfe - but none of them have come under the kind of scrutiny Hubbard has.

Quinn's first appearance in the Tokyo Olympics in the women's football competition came two days before the official opening of the Games.Smith competed last week in the women's street skateboarding. Wolfe, a trans woman, is a reserve athlete who did not feature.

Italy's Valentina Petrillo is likely to become the first trans Paralympian later in the summer.Hubbard draws focus largely because of the nature of her sport - the fact weightlifting will be among the first Olympic events to include a trans woman athlete was always likely to provoke debate.

Some sports, both Olympic and otherwise, have in modern times become non-gendered. Equestrian, snooker, darts and bowls are some of those in which men and women compete against each other.Generally, they are non-contact sports and ones in which female pioneers have forced their way into traditionally male arenas. Their achievements have been widely celebrated where once they were excluded - for example Rachael Blackmore's historic first Grand National win by a female jockey.

But sport in general remains largely categorised by gender. And for those sports where success is largely determined by physical strength it has become clear in the debate that the path forward for the IOC and other sporting bodies in creating inclusion, equality and opportunity for trans athletes will need to be guided by sound scientific evidence, to ensure not only fair competition, but safety.

James Barrett is an adult gender medicine specialist and co-researcher of an ongoing study on trans athletes, funded by the IOC and World Anti-Doping Agency (Wada)."At the moment it's not really a debate, it's just a series of people airing their views," he says.

"I'm intrinsically suspicious when people say: 'That's obvious.' Because that's not fact it's just opinion really. And it used to be 'obvious' that women shouldn't vote. So always be wary of that.""If you really wanted to know the answer to these questions you'd take some perfectly ordinary 20-something trans folk and measure their athletic potential before and after standard treatment."

Such studies have been taking place for years, and are used to formulate and modify the IOC's policy. But how will their conclusions continue to impact gendered sport?"Preliminary thinking is that all of this isn't anywhere near as neat as people would like it to be," says gender medicine specialist Barrett.

"We're waiting for the data to come in. People are making the assumption that being trans women athletes confers advantage. It isn't obvious that it does. It didn't with Renee Richards, it didn't with Rachel McKinnon." Read more: BBC News (UK) »

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It was the most watched Olympic event since Mohammed's hijinx in Munich. All for a fucking DNF. But as we say in Australia: it's not whether you win or lose as long we finish ahead of New Zealand. It’s a bloke weightlifting in a woman’s competition surely that is a big advantage Surely they should have their own gender class rather than putting men into women's sports no ? I thought it was me him her and a donkey nowadays ? Yet fine to go trash a women's sport 😒

Sport is segregated by sex for good reason. Performance advantages of being male aren't suppressed enough by lowering T levels. It isn't fair, or safe in some sports, to allow males, however they identify, to compete against females, and it isn't hateful to say so. IOC messed up. How is it possible that a middle age male out of his prime is competing for Olympic medals? Could it be because he is competing against female? I just wonder. HubbardIsACheat

Are you going to block us for pointing out the unfairness and inaccuracies in this article? Like BBC Sport threatened? A 43 year old, mediocre weightlifter, son of a millionaire - reluctant? All I see is male entitlement. Interview the woman who lost her chance to compete. Disgraceful If this bloke identifies as a women, then why not just put on a dress and heels and stop ruining good sport

Cheat Hubbard wasn't good enough to compete seriously prior to self identifying. Hubbard has a clear advantage in the female category. Hubbard is not reluctant but is exploitative. Not sure how 'reluctant' comes into it - this person had a choice of whether to seek to compete in a women's event.

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Funny how it's all one way, isn't it? How many women/transmen are clamouring to compete in men's events? Hmm, I wonder why not? 🤔 Is he was reluctant he would have withdrawn. He would have recognised the fact he is an Olympiccheat and bowed out. He would also recognise he has cheated ethnic women out of their place in the team. He still has full tackle no woman has this. Cis is a slur. WomenWontWheesht

Yet Semenya was told to reduce a hormone she produces naturally. Sounds like sebcoe is an ally SexMattersOrg Reluctant! This is a deliberate act of misogynistic sabotage. That reluctant, but taking part? Bullshit Ridiculous, competes as a man, gets nowhere, 'changes sex', Gold Medal! Nothing wrong here eh BBC?

The problem with your story is that your readers have eyes. Not a history maker a cheater. Tell the truth! Men steal things from women all the time; this isn’t new or history making. You’ll take our money but we’re not quite human enough to be allowed to take part in sports. Or have opinions about our sports being taken from us.

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Hubbard is most certainly NOT reluctant! Hubbard is a cheat who is more than happy to take spaces away from her^ female competitors. Hubbard should be in the +109kg category Yes, traditional sports must change. Sports prove to us what human being is capable of doing beyond imagination. It does not matter you are a woman or man or others. It is only necessary to separate them as categories.

Btw . This... ...and to think I was going to campaign to stop you being defunded. No, sorry, you're on your own now. SaveWomensSports It takes a lifetime to become an elite athlete. Male & female weightlifters peak around age 25 so if someone decades past their best with an injury can already qualify, & many thousands of men & boys already beat female world records, what does the future hold for female sport?

BBC = British Broadcasting Channel UK/Britain = TERF Island British People = Gender Critical GC, TwAM, Unwoke BBC representing Britain/British People & Attitudes, Opinions & Voice, LicencePayers (British Investors)? NO! Remove BRITISH from B BC DefundTheBBC Media bias Men winning women's sports now as well. Surely, biological women are the losers here?

Bollocks, literally.

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Reluctant? Who dragged him into the sport kicking and screaming? Last I checked that's wholly voluntary. 'Reluctant'? Hubbard is a mediocre and past it male weightlifter who is twice the age of the female competitors. The only things making Hubbard compete is Hubbard's ego and complete lack of shame. Inclusivity! yeah right, the only people excluded ( from a fair chance) is Women.

So this means we can allow steroid use now right? Nice ratio. Sick to death of lies. You're the BBC for goodness sake! Utterly ridiculous Reluctant?.... your basis for this?.....has someone forced Hubbard to take part? we need catagories for male , female , males who used to be females , females who used to be males .

Reluctant my arse. He's a podgy middle aged bloke who'd get no where near the Olympics unless he larped as a woman. Win or lose, an actual woman has lost her chance to go to the Olympics.

Joe Rogan rants how LGBTQ are 'most vicious' cancel culture championsJoe Rogan called gay and transgender people the 'most vicious' upholders of cancel culture in a rant on his podcast, The Joe Rogan Experience. Wow, the prejudice!!! Perhaps it’s because of being ostracized, bullied, abused and discriminated against. That’s true I see no lies but Fvck fem

“She” is musculoskeletal a he. It’s a disgusting sign of our times that a man is allowed to compete against women because he has decided he is not a man anymore. If we could buy TVs without BBC being on them or get a blocker for Tvs we already own and not have to pay the licence fee I wonder how many people would opt for that choice? With the standard of BBC News I think there would be a lot of interest in that!

He's not reluctant. If he was 'reluctant' to steal women's places and prizes he simply wouldn't do it. While the IOC enables his cheating, he is not forced to do it. He could stay home and watch women compete in women's sport, as any decent person would do. It’s not “hate” to point out how unfair it is for a woman who is biologically male to compete in strength sports against women that are biologically female. A solutions that’s fair to all needs to be found.

A 43 year old (oldest weightlifter to compete) 6 foot, 130 K male, competing in the 87K + female category. Despite when previously competing as a man never got anywhere near qualifying for the Olympics. 'reluctant' you have to be kidding. If Hubbard was 'reluctant', Hubbard wouldn't be depriving women of places & medals.

'reluctant'? He's enjoying stealing a place from a woman. Hubbard is a cheating MAN. The only history here is that future generations will ask how this misognist farce was not only allowed but celebrated. We don't pay a licence fee for your reporter to fawn over a cheat. RELUCTANT!! Are you having a laugh? Try 'Attention Seeking Cheat'...

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There is nothing 'reluctant' about a Male in Women's Sport Its deliberate It's misogynistic It's cheating I don’t give a fuck if I upset the snowflakes, this is wrong, way stronger as she used to be a man, totally unfair advantage, it’s a joke This man has stomped his foot to be included in women's sport, he's not reluctant. He won men's heats in the 90s and couldn't qualify for them now age 43. But his male body means he can easily beat women half his age. This is biased BBC propaganda OliverDowden KemiBadenoch

I pay my license fee and, therefore, pay part of your wage so how dare you promote this shambles as something heroic and history-making! There shouldn’t be male-bodied people in women’s sports at all! Reluctant? Depressing to see this level of inaccurate reporting and disrespect for women and girls from our own

Not reluctant enough to make the decision not to compete against women, despite her physical advantages from male puberty, was she? How many 43 year old women are taking part in the weightlifting event? Reluctant? How do you work that one out?! You don't end up in the Olympics unless you really want to be there, and entering in the wrong sex class was a very deliberate move, as they wouldn't have a hope in hell of qualifying for the male competition.

A demented male stealing women’s spots. What’s not to like? Men have to lower their testosterone to under 10 nmol to compete as women. A high level of testosterone for a woman is 2.8 nmol. I’m not sure your article spells this out clearly enough. Reluctant are you having a laugh He is 43 couldnt make it in the Mens pushed his way into the Womens and some young Woman is sat at home after all her hard work because the IOC have allowed a cheating Man to take her place

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Who since the fall of the DDR reluctantly competes in elite sports? Well that's women's sports finished then. Aided and abetted by msm. Reluctant. Should have stayed at home then. There is no debate, he’s a cheat. Women should refuse to compete with him. This is not ok . This person is not ‘reluctant’. They are a cheat, pure and simple

If laurel was competing in the male category I’d be cheering her on as trailblazer. This…nope Cheat you mean. Not good enough for men's competition. So conveniently acclaims he is a woman. HE is anatomically a man. Ergo he is a cheat and a fraud. Please report the truth. When male athletes exploit loopholes for unfair advantage BBC covers this Why the disregard here? Do some research Its unfair, unsafe & decisions made due to lobbyists without evidence its cheating report it accurately

Heather Swanson

So, so reluctant. Cheating cheating cheater. “Reluctant” my arse. Should be In a separate group men women and trans ..... Reluctant? Rich white male Hubbard absolutely revels in taking the place of a woman in any sports competition. The climax of the Woman Hatey Olympics. There has been more of a rumpus about ladies swimming caps than this shite show. Mean spirited, unsporting and badly done.

'Reluctant history maker'? That famous BBC objectivity and lack of hyperbole at work again. 'Just reporting the facts, Ma'am' Oh, I am sure the comments will be fine and nice and not offensive at all. sorry it can not be fair 90% of male muscle I suspect

Really feal sorry for the women who have trained so hard for so long only to have there brief moment at the top of their sport taken from them by a cheater.Shame on everyone who has allowed this. What's historic about cheating? The dude Good luck to them Just how many crayons do you have to shove up your nostril before you start to think this is fine and dandy?

horrible Reluctant men don’t compete in women’s events I made massive losses in crypto, but all thanks to MrCollins57 I am back on my feet, twice as tall , send him a message to learn more about how to stay profitable. If he was reluctant he wouldn't be doing what he's doing