Olympic rules for allowing transgender women to compete ‘to be changed’ after Laurel Hubbard’s debut

The Olympic rules for allowing transgender athletes to participate in women’s competitions will be changed after the Tokyo games, officials have announced. 

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) say they will set out a new policy for participation of transgender women in Olympic sports.

Officials say the current guidelines, set in 2015, are not fit for purpose and should be adapted to catch-up with advancements in science and testing.

A push towards each individual sport setting their own rules is one of the likely outcomes – in a bid to move away from the current ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach.

It comes after weightlifter Laurel Hubbard today made history by becoming the first openly transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics.

But the New Zealander’s Olympic debut – which sparked much debate prior to the games – was not a fruitful one.

Hubbard, 43, who transitioned in 2012, crashed out of the women’s +87kg weightlifting competition without registering a lift.

Meanwhile the debate over her inclusion today rages on, with people asking whether it was fair for Hubbard to compete in the first place.

The planned rule change comes after weightlifter Laurel Hubbard (pictured) today made history by becoming the first openly transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics

Hubbard on stage before the event

Hubbard claps during a brief ceremony before the event

New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard has appeared on stage as she prepares to make history as the first trans woman to compete in an Olympic solo event

Laurel Hubbard of Team New Zealand, left, alongside her fellow competitors ahead of the Women's 87kg+ event in Tokyo

Laurel Hubbard of Team New Zealand, left, alongside her fellow competitors ahead of the Women’s 87kg+ event in Tokyo

Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard praises the Olympics as a ‘global celebration of our hopes, ideals and values’ after critics said allowing her to compete was a ‘bad joke’ 

Weightlifter Laurel Hubbard has thanked the International Olympic Committee for the inclusive policies that will allow her to compete at a Games as a transgender athlete.

The New Zealander, 43, who competed as a man before transitioning in 2013, has qualified under International Weightlifting Federation rules to take part in the 87+kg category in Tokyo on Monday.

Her qualification has been divisive, however, with some questioning the fairness of transgender athletes who have been through male puberty competing against women, especially in power sports.

Hubbard has not spoken to the media since her place on the New Zealand team was confirmed and on Friday a statement was read out on her behalf at an IOC briefing on inclusion.

‘I see the Olympic Games as a global celebration of our hopes, ideals and values and I would like to thank the IOC for its commitment to making sport inclusive and accessible,’ she said.

Last month, Belgian competitor Anna Vanbellinghen publicly stated allowing Hubbard to compete in the women’s 87+ category in Tokyo was a ‘bad joke.’

She was quick to add she fully supported the transgender community but the principle of inclusion should not be ‘at the expense of others’.  

‘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.

The guidelines which allowed Hubbard to compete alongside women were established in 2015 by the IOC and adopted by the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF).

The current guidelines require a transgender woman to undergo hormone therapy and suppress testosterone levels ‘below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months prior to her first competition.’

Hubbard transitioned nearly a decade ago and has been undergoing hormone therapy to reduce her testosterone since then.  

However, on Friday, Dr Richard Budgett, the IOC’s medical and science director, suggested new rules could be implemented, saying that the science had moved on since the 2015 guidelines were set out.

He stressed that a new framework for sports would also focus on safety as well as fairness. 

Dr Budgett said: ‘I absolutely accept that, things move on.

‘At the time the 10 nanomoles per litre was set because we thought that was the lower level for men. We know now that they go down to seven and women can be higher as well. 

‘Agreeing on another number is almost impossible and possibly irrelevant. You can debate that endlessly.’ 

Meanwhile, experts today told Yahoo Sports that there are two main issues with the current guidelines.

They are that the current testosterone-related rules were too lenient, and that one set of guidelines should not apply to dozens of different sports. 

Dr Myron Genel, a Yale endocrinologist who has studied the topic and consulted with the IOC for two decades, told Yahoo Sports that the threshold was too high – because it was set ‘based on old data, and not on the most sophisticated ways of measuring testosterone’.

Meanwhile, other experts are said to have criticised the ‘one-size fits-all’ policy on trans inclusion – saying some the advantages trans athletes have differ from event to event.

Dr Genel said: ‘The difference between male and female performance varies from sport to sport.

‘Even within a sport, like in track and field, the male to female advantage may be anywhere from 5 to 12, 13 per cent, depending upon the activity.’ 

The IOC currently allows each international sports federation to set its own rules for each sport. However, many have simply adopted the IOC’s 2015 guidelines.

IOC spokesman Christian Klaue said the IOC is now focused on ‘[providing] a framework’ to help sport-specific federations develop their own regulations. 

Officials said that the new approach will be announced later this year, most likely within the next two months.

The announcement of a policy change comes as Hubbard today made history as the first openly transgender athlete to compete at the Olympic Games.

But her eagerly anticipated appearance fell flat as she exited the women’s +87kg weightlifting competition without registering a lift.

Unprecedented media interest had ensured the 43-year-old’s every move would be scrutinised since she was confirmed on the New Zealand team, and it was little surprise that she should take no questions in the press mixed zone afterwards.

Instead Hubbard made a statement, in which she said: ‘I know that from a sporting perspective I haven’t really hit the standards that I put upon myself and perhaps the standards that my country has expected of me.

‘But one of the things for which I am profoundly grateful is that the supporters in New Zealand have given me so much and have been beyond astonishing.

‘I know that my participation at these Games has not been entirely without controversy but they (the New Zealand Olympic Committee) have been just so wonderful and I’m so grateful to them.’ 

Hubbard smiled through the introductory line-up but struggled on stage, failing on her initial snatch lift of 120kg, and again at 125kg.

When she failed on her second attempt at the same weight, she shaped a heart with her hands before exiting the Games. 

Meanwhile, the debate rages on about Hubbard’s inclusion in today’s event, with many still split over the issue.

Some took to Twitter after Hubbard had been eliminated from the competition ask if questions of the ‘fairness’ of her inclusion had been knocked back by her disappointing showing at the games.

Canadian journalist Amanda Jette Knox today said: ‘What? Laurel Hubbard, trans athlete, was eliminated from the competition after not performing as well as the cis athletes who will be competing in the Olympic finals?

‘B-b-but how is she going to grab all the gold medals with her “unfair advantage”?!’ 

Another said: ‘Do the transphobes celebrating Laurel Hubbard going out of the weightlifting at the first stage not realise this totally demolishes their “unfair advantage” argument?’ 

However others maintained their opinion that her inclusion was unfair on other athletes, with one user, Samantha Wood, saying: ‘I’ve been discussing this all afternoon

‘We should be kind to Laurel Hubbard because we are all humans – but that doesn’t make it fair she’s competing in the women’s competition.

‘No biological woman in her 40s lifts within the male range as Laurel Hubbard still does.’

Meanwhile, sports writer Ewan MacKenna also expressed his opinion on the matter, saying: ‘On Laurel Hubbard, I don’t care how you live if it makes you happy, and actually think she is brave. 

‘But there’s a caveat when your choices start effecting other people and hurts them. 

‘Using scientific sex advantage to deny women what they’ve worked for and deserve is not okay.’

He earlier said: ‘Laurel Hubbard competing shortly is a dangerous precedent, a massive slap to the face of all women and fair sport, and an indictment of the Olympics and New Zealand sport. That is all.’

The competition was won by China’s Li Wenwen, who stormed to victory with an Olympic record combined lift of 320kg.

Britain’s Emily Campbell produced a stunning result by taking the silver medal with a combined lift of 283kg. 

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