'It's a bad joke': Olympic rival's fury over transgender weightlifter

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Seen here, transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard strains to lift a bar in competition.
Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard is eligible to compete in the women's super heavyweight division at the Tokyo Games. Pic: Getty

A Belgian women's weightlifter has slammed the decision to allow New Zealand transgender athlete Laurel Hubbard to compete in the same event as her at the Tokyo Olympic Games.

Hubbard, who competed in men's competitions before transitioning in 2013, is set to become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics after weightlifting's governing body modified qualifying requirements for Tokyo.

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She has been eligible to compete in the Olympics since 2015, when the IOC issued new guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition.

The 43-year-old still has to satisfy the New Zealand Olympic Committee of her fitness and performance standards before selection but the prospect of her participation has already raised questions.

Belgian rival Anna Vanbellinghen - who competes in the same +87kg super heavyweight women's category as Hubbard - says the Kiwis' inclusion is unfair on the other athletes and described her eligibility as a "bad joke".

"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," she told Olympics news website insidethegames.

Belgium's Anna Vanbellinghen gets ready to compete in a weightlifting event.
Belgium's Anna Vanbellinghen says Laurel Hubbard's inclusion in the women's competition is unfair on other women. Pic: Getty

Vanbellinghen says while she fully supported the rights of the transgender community, the Belgian insists Hubbard's inclusion should not be "at the expense of others".

"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 argues that Hubbard physically developing as a man before her transition gives her an inherent unfair advantage over her competition. She contrasted Hubbard's situation with the competitive benefits of using banned steroids at any point during an athlete's career. 

"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?"

Hubbard no stranger to criticism

Hubbard competed as a man until she was 23 years old. According to Inside the Games, she never competed on the international level as a man. She first competed as a woman at the 2017 world championships, where she earned a silver medal. 

Seen here, transgender Kiwi weightlifter Laurel Hubbard.
Laurel Hubbard's Olympic Games eligibility has been the subject of much debate. Pic: Getty

The New Zealander addressed similar criticism in 2017 that her participation in women's events was unfair.

"As an athlete, all I can really do is block that out," Hubbard told Radio New Zealand in 2017 amid questions of fairness. 

"If I try and take that weight on board, it just makes the lifts harder. All I can really do is just focus and lift. 

"The science is evolving, and the position of the IOC is evolving too. What most people probably don't realize is that I actually satisfy the requirements of the 2003 Stockholm consensus, which were the original rules that the IOC agreed upon to allow participation of people like myself. So I am not competing under a recent rule change. I am competing under rules which have been in place now for 14 years."

Hubbard has not spoken publicly on the topic since 2017 or addressed her eligibility for Tokyo. 

with agencies

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