WELLINGTON (Reuters) -New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern on Tuesday defended the selection of transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard for the Tokyo Olympics, a decision that has fuelled a debate over inclusion and fairness in sport.
Hubbard will become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Games after she was selected for the New Zealand team in the women’s super-heavyweight 87+kg category.
The 43-year-old’s inclusion has been divisive with her supporters welcoming the decision while critics have questioned the fairness of transgender athletes competing against women.
“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,” Ardern told reporters in Wellington.
“The alternative is to have someone who followed the rules but then is denied the ability to participate.
“So, ultimately, I leave it to those bodies and that’s the decision they have made and it’s in keeping with the standard that has been set globally.”
Hubbard, who will be the oldest lifter at the Games, competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning in 2013.
The International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued guidelines in 2015 allowing transgender athletes to compete as women provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition.
Some scientists have said the guidelines do little to mitigate the biological advantages of those who have gone through puberty as males, such as bone and muscle density.
Supporters of transgender inclusion argue the process of transition decreases that advantage considerably and that physical differences between athletes mean there is never a truly level playing field in sport.
Australia’s weightlifting federation tried to block Hubbard from competing in the women’s event at the 2018 Commonwealth Games but has been supportive of her selection for Tokyo.
Australian lifter Charisma Amoe-Tarrant, who will compete against Hubbard in the 87+kg division, wished Hubbard well.
“I have so much respect for her and … hope we can all come together and enjoy the Olympics,” the Nauru-born 22-year-old told reporters in Brisbane on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Praveen Menon; Additional reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Jane Wardell, Robert Birsel)