Laurel Hubbard might have won two gold medals in the recent Pacific Games, but more outrage than celebration has followed the victory. The reason behind the controversy is that Hubbard was born male, which critics say gives the athlete an unfair advantage, per Reuters.
Chief among Hubbard’s opponents is the lobby group “Speak Up For Women.” The New Zealand-based society believes that sports should be separated by sex rather than gender identity, meaning that Hubbard would be required to compete in the men’s category, as she had done before her transition.
“Kiwis (New Zealanders) know that males competing in women’s sport is blatantly unfair,” said spokesperson Ani O’Brien.
Since Hubbard’s victories, “Speak Up For Women” has been one of a number of groups that has lobbied the International Olympic Committee to reevaluate its stance on trans athletes before the Summer 2020 Games in Tokyo.
In 2015, the committee, known as the IOC, relaxed its rules on transsexual athletes, allowing those who had hormonally transitioned to compete in their identified class. Previously, a transgender athlete had been required to have undergone complete gender reassignment surgery.
Science on the subject is still in its infancy, and a number of studies have suggested that trans athletes have massive advantages — even after hormone therapy — while others have suggested that limiting testosterone indeed levels the field.
Dr. Nicola Williams is the research director for the UK’s Fair Play for Women, another group that believes trans women have an unfair advantage in sport. Williams has suggested that trans athletes be banned until a larger number of scientific studies can be completed on the fairness of hormone therapy. In the meantime, she believes that there should be a separate category for trans athletes, per Australian Broadcasting Corporation.
The suggestion for a separate category was echoed by Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele, whose country was outraged after its champion Feagaiga Stowers came in second to Hubbard.
“I really don’t think he – she – should ever participate in this (tournament), but I realize we have to (be) inclusive and we cannot exclude these people,” Sailele said, per Reuters.
“They ought to participate in these Games in their own category.”
Sailele also invoked the Pacific Island nation’s concept of a third gender, fa’afafine, to bolster the idea of a third category, per ABC.
Weightlifting is a particular sore topic as women did not have their own weightlifting category until the 2000 Sydney Olympics.
“So within 20 years, women have built their discipline from scratch and it’s now being undermined by people that don’t have female bodies essentially,” Williams lamented.
The IOC will likely be investigating new scientific claims intently, after a new study by the Dunedin-based University of Otago suggested that trans athletes have significant advantages, due to higher bone density and muscle mass that could not be negated by hormone therapy.
“Science demonstrates that high adult levels of testosterone, as well as permanent testosterone effects on male physiology during in utero and early development, provides a performance advantage in sport and that much of this male physiology is not mitigated by the transition to a transwoman,” explained Otago physiology professor Alison Heather, per 1 News Now.