Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard has won the support of her Australian Olympics rival, Charisma Amoe-Tarrant, as the Kiwi’s selection for Tokyo reignites debate around the highly sensitive and complex issue of inclusion and fairness in women’s sport.
The New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, said all parties had “followed the rules” in allowing Hubbard to become the first transgender athlete to compete at an Olympic Games.
The 43-year-old met strict eligibility standards set by the International Olympic Committee and the New Zealand Olympic Committee. Nevertheless, her selection on Monday polarised international opinion over whether trans athletes hold an unfair advantage over other women.
But Amoe-Tarrant, who has been selected to represent Australia in Tokyo and will compete against Hubbard in the 87kg-plus super heavyweight category, had no problem with her inclusion.
“I have so much respect for her and wish her and the other lifters the best and hope we can all come together and enjoy the Olympics,” the 22-year-old said. “Because this Olympics right now is quite different compared to others. I’ve competed with her previously and always had good chats with her, I just wish her well.”
In 2015, the IOC issued guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels were 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. Advocates for transgender inclusion argue the process of transition significantly decreases that advantage, and that physical differences between athletes mean there is never truly a level playing field.
Ardern offered Hubbard her full support. “All parties here have simply followed the rules,” the New Zealand prime minister said. “That’s the case for Laurel but also the team in New Zealand, they have followed the rules.”
The sport minister, Grant Robertson, said on Tuesday that “she deserves to be there and we’ll be supporting her”, while the conservative opposition leader, Judith Collins, said she was in awe of all Olympians and Hubbard “is who she is and she is trying to do her best”.
“I’d hate to see any bullying or any horrible comments about Laurel because she’s doing what she wants to do,” Collins said.
Save Women’s Sport Australasia, a group opposed to transgender women competing in women’s sports, said Hubbard’s selection was allowed by “flawed policy from the IOC”, while Australian Deborah Lovely Acason, who competed against Hubbard in the same weight class at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, this year wrote she believed her inclusion risked driving girls away from the sport.
Hubbard herself is media-shy and rarely gives interviews. She did speak after badly injuring her elbow at the Commonwealth Games, describing the Australian crowd on the Gold Coast as “an incredible environment … they have lived up to the mantra of humanity, equality and decency”.
After her selection on Monday, she released a statement saying she was “grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders”.
“The mana of the silver fern comes from all of you and I will wear it with pride,” she said.