A Belgian female weightlifter is questioning the Olympic rules for transgender athletes after a New Zealand weightlifter who is biologically male became eligible for female weightlifting competitions.
New Zealand’s Laurel Hubbard is expected to qualify this week for the Tokyo Summer Games in the +87kg super heavyweight division. This would make Hubbard the first openly transgender athlete in Olympic history.
Hubbard, 43, was born male and competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning to female in 2013, according to ESPN.
International Olympic Committee (IOC) rules allow male-to-female athletes to compete in female events if their testosterone level in serum remains below 10 nanomoles per liter for 12 months. Hubbard has met that standard. But weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen of Belgium is criticizing the IOC, saying Hubbard’s past competition in male weightlifting meets should be disqualifying.
“First off, I would like to stress that I fully support the transgender community, and that what I’m about to say doesn’t come from a place of rejection of this athlete’s identity,” Vanbellinghen told Inside the Games. “I am aware that defining a legal frame for transgender participation in sports is very difficult since there is an infinite variety of situations, and that reaching an entirely satisfactory solution, from either side of the debate, is probably impossible.
“However, anyone that has trained weightlifting at a high level knows this to be true in their bones: This particular situation is unfair to the sport and to the athletes.”
Vanbellinghen drew a parallel to steroids, noting they have an impact on athletes many years after they are used.
“So why is it still a question whether two decades, from puberty to the age of 35, with the hormonal system of a man also would give an advantage [in competing against women]?” Vanbellinghen asked.
“I understand that for sports authorities, nothing is as simple as following your common sense and that there are a lot of impracticalities when studying such a rare phenomenon, but for athletes, the whole thing feels like a bad joke,” Vanbellinghen added. “Life-changing opportunities are missed for some athletes – medals and Olympic qualifications – and we are powerless.”
Vanbellinghen asserted that the debate “is taking place in a broader context of discrimination against transgender people,” and “that is why the question is never free of ideology.”
“However, the extreme nature of this particular situation really demonstrates the need to set up a stricter legal framework for transgender inclusion in sports, and especially elite sports,” Vanbellinghen said. “Because I do believe that everyone should have access to sports, but not at the expense of others.”
Photo courtesy: ©Getty Images/Alex Pantling/Staff
Michael Foust has covered the intersection of faith and news for 20 years. His stories have appeared in Baptist Press, Christianity Today, The Christian Post, the Leaf-Chronicle, the Toronto Star and the Knoxville News-Sentinel.