Transgender weightlifter's award generates massive controversy

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·Sports Reporter
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New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard was awarded the Sportswoman of the Year by the University of Otago. (Wally Skalij /Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard was awarded the Sportswoman of the Year by the University of Otago. (Wally Skalij /Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

A New Zealand university's move to award transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard their sportswoman of the year award has been met with criticism on social media.

The 43-year-old became the first transgender woman to compete at the Olympic Games when she entered the women's 87+ kilogram weightlifting in Tokyo.

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Though Hubbard was unable to complete a successful snatch lift, the University of Otago saw fit to recognise her efforts with the award over the weekend.

Hubbard retired from competitive weightlifting shortly after the Tokyo Olympics, admitting that she had been somewhat 'overwhelmed' by the Olympic stage.

She also said that, with her competitors often 20 years her junior, it was physically time to give up the sport.

In comments for the Otago Daily Times, Hubbard thanked the university for their support.

‘It is not possible for athletes to complete at the Olympic level without the encouragement and aroha of friends, family and supporters," she said.

‘‘This award belongs to everyone who has been part of my Olympic journey.’’

The University of Otago's Students’ Association president Michaela Waite-Harvey said Hubbard was a fitting recipient of the honour.

‘‘We could think of no-one more worthy of sportswoman of the year than Laurel Hubbard who represented Otago and New Zealand incredibly well at this year’s Tokyo Olympics," she said.

However not everyone was thrilled with the move, despite the award coming from a relatively unknown institution recognising a local athlete.

Many were critical of awarding Hubbard after her failure to complete a lift at the Games - despite the fact her very presence there was history-making.

However many others were quick to come to Hubbard's defence, pointing out that much of the criticism was unfair.

Hubbard's determination to compete at the Olympics had been hailed by transgender activists around the world.

Hubbard's presence at the Tokyo Games sparked debate about the rules around transgender athletes, but it proved to be a storm in a teacup as the admittedly 'overwhelmed' Kiwi was unable to complete a successful lift and qualify beyond the first round.

Transgender athlete Laurel Hubbard thanks IOC for support

Hubbard praised the IOC for showing "moral leadership" in adopting inclusive polices that allowed her to participate at the Games.

"I'm not sure that a role model is something I could ever aspire to be, instead I hope that just by being I can provide some sense of encouragement," she told reporters.

Critics argue athletes such as Hubbard, who was born male and transitioned to female in her 30s, have physical benefits hardwired into their bodies during their formative years.

These include greater muscle mass and lung capacity, leading to fears that female-born athletes could be forced to compete on an uneven playing field.

Laurel Hubbard was recognised by the IOC as the first transgender athlete to compete at an Olympic Games. (Wally Skalij /Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)
Laurel Hubbard was recognised by the IOC as the first transgender athlete to compete at an Olympic Games. (Wally Skalij /Los Angeles Times via Getty Images)

The IOC, under guidelines adopted in 2003, only allowed transgender participation for athletes who had undergone gender reassignment surgery but dropped the requirement in 2015, instead focusing on lower testosterone levels.

The governing body is set to release new guidelines on the issue after the Tokyo Games are completed.

Hubbard said she welcomed the discussion about the issues her debut had highlighted.

"I'm certain that a conversation needs to be had," she said.

"Although we have rules at the moment, they will no doubt change and evolve as more is known about transgender athletes and what that means for participation in sport."

With AFP

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