Transgender woman makes NZ weightlifting team

By Dylan Cleaver

Laurel Hubbard said she just wanted to "concentrate on preparing for her first international competition". Photo / 123RF
Laurel Hubbard said she just wanted to "concentrate on preparing for her first international competition". Photo / 123RF

New Zealand weightlifting has selected a transgender athlete for this month's Australian International, believed to be a first in New Zealand sport.

Weightlifting officials told the Herald that Laurel Hubbard will be competing in the 90kg+ female category at the event. The tournament goes some way to determining Commonwealth Games selection so Hubbard is in prime position to compete for New Zealand at next year's Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast.

The selection of Hubbard, the daughter of cereal magnate and former Auckland mayor Dick Hubbard, is a pioneering moment in sport for the LBGT community.

Hubbard, 39, declined to be interviewed, saying through Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand general manager Emma Pilkington that she just wanted to "concentrate on preparing for her first international competition".

Garry Marshall, president of the Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand, said Hubbard, who once competed as Gavin Hubbard, will be picked for the Commonwealth Games, form permitting.

"She has indicated she wishes to compete internationally," Marshall, who believed Hubbard would be a great chance of a Commonwealth Games medal next year.

Hubbard is the top-ranked 90kg+ female lifter in the country. With a personal best snatch of 122kg and a clean and jerk of 140kg, her 262kg total is, according to OWNZ records, 22kg more than Rio de Janeiro Olympic representative Tracey Lambrechs, who is looking to drop down a weight class.

Marshall acknowledged Hubbard's selection had created some issues among other female lifters but said the position of OWNZ was simple.

"We have to follow the policy of the International Olympic Committee and the International Weightlifting Federation. They do not acknowledge in any way the gender identity of an athlete other than male or female; they're not described as transgender."

The New Zealand Olympic Committee, who administer the Commonwealth Games team, said they would be dictated to by OWNZ.

"Eligibility criteria for Commonwealth and Olympic events is set by the respective international federation, not a National Olympic Committee or Commonwealth Games Association," spokeswoman Ashley Abbott said.

"It certainly is a sensitive matter and is about creating a balance between human rights and fair competition."

Marshall said he didn't believe New Zealand was the first country to have a weightlifter transition from male to female.

"I've spotted a few in the past," he said.

The world weightlifting body has followed the guidelines from the IOC's consensus meeting on sex reassignment and hyperandrogenism, issued in November 2015.

Among the recommendations it states that those who transition from male to female "must demonstrate that her total testosterone level in serum has been below 10 [nanomoles per litre] for at least 12 months prior to her first competition".

Marshall said Hubbard had been supplying the results of her monthly tests for more than two years.

Even the relatively mundane act of drugs testing has to be given careful consideration. It is something that has been discussed recently at Drug-Free Sport New Zealand.

"DFSNZ is aware of the need to provide clarity regarding the potential testing of transgender athletes - for the athletes themselves as well as for our sample collection personnel," said Jude Ellis, programme manager for testing and investigations. "We have already consulted with other national anti-doping organisations, many of whom are also grappling with this issue.

"While we have yet to develop any firm policy or protocol on this, it is generally accepted that when testing transgender athletes, the witness to the sample collection would be the same gender as the gender in which that athlete has registered to compete."

If that is a functionary consideration, the idea of fair play is more vexed.

Marshall believed that Hubbard competed with "huge advantages".

"She competed for a long time as a man and her efforts were very strong.

"That strength has remained with her despite reduced testosterone. That point is not recognised by the science and some of our competitors would say that's not fair.

"But there is no concrete evidence that there are advantages to Laurel. If there was we would act on them."

Pilkington said the team will be sat down and appraised of the situation at a pre-tournament meeting.

"We have a good culture," she said. "We will go as one team, not individuals."

Pilkington said while they haven't made the situation public, a lot of people from within the weightlifting community already knew.

"Everything has been transparent," she said.

Vice-president of OWNZ Richard Patterson, a Commonwealth Games gold medallist who still competes on the international stage, said everybody was very respectful of Hubbard.

"From a personal point of view, she is a lovely person," he said.

- NZ Herald

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