International Olympic Committee (IOC) medical and science director Dr. Richard Budgett has claimed that “everyone agrees that trans women are women” and praised 42-year-old New Zealand transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard.
Hubbard, a biological male who identifies as a female, will compete Monday at the Tokyo Olympics against biological women in weightlifting. Hubbard formerly competed against male weightlifters before the athlete identified as a woman and was allowed access to female competitions.
“To put it in a nutshell, the IOC had a scientific consensus back in 2015,” Budgett explained. “There are no IOC rules or regulations around transgender participation. That depends on each international federation.”
“So Laurel Hubbard is a woman and is competing under the rules of her federation, and we have to pay tribute to her courage and tenacity in actually competing and qualifying for the Games,” the doctor said.
“There are lots of aspects of physiology and anatomy, and the mental side, that contribute to an elite performance. It’s very difficult to say, ‘yes, she has an advantage because she went through male puberty,’ when there’s so many other factors to take into account,” Budgett said.
“It’s not simple,” he added. “Each sport has to make their own assessment depending on the physiology of that sport so that they can ensure there is fair competition, but also the inclusion of everyone – whether they’re male or female – so they are able to take part in the sport they love.”
Unsurprisingly, permitting biologically male transgender athletes to compete against biological women has been opposed by huge portions of the population.
Many female athletes and some famed feminists have spoken out against separating sports based on gender identity instead of biological sex, highlighting how females have lost out on opportunities because of the biological advantages males have over females, even post-trans hormone therapy, as a British Journal of Sports Medicine study suggests.
Female weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen, who could compete in the Olympic Games against Hubbard, has spoken out about the issue, likening the situation to “a bad joke”:
“First off, I would like to stress that I fully support the transgender community, and that what I’m about to say doesn’t come from a place of rejection of this athlete’s identity,” Vanbellinghen said earlier this month. “I am aware that defining a legal frame for transgender participation in sports is very difficult since there is an infinite variety of situations, and that reaching an entirely satisfactory solution, from either side of the debate, is probably impossible.”
“However, 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,” the athlete emphasized.
Since Hubbard physically developed as a man before transitioning, the trans weightlifter is at an inherent unfair advantage over biologically female competitors, said Vanbellinghen. “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?”
“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 continued.
“Life-changing opportunities are missed for some athletes — medals and Olympic qualifications — and we are powerless.”