With the Tokyo Olympics looming, women’s groups in New Zealand and the U.K. are sounding the alarm over the threat posed to the integrity of women’s sports by biological males who identify as females being allowed to compete against females.
Among the most high profile of the male-to-female transgender athletes sparking the increasingly widespread outcry against the presence of biological males in women’s events is weightlifter Laurel Hubbard, who competed as a man in the sport for decades before competing — and winning — as a woman in recent years.
Hubbard, 41, dominated the Pacific Games’ women’s heavyweight events earlier this month, bringing home two golds and a silver, and besting Commonwealth Games champion Feagaiga Stowers in the process. Hubbard’s performance drew pushback from U.K.-based women’s group “Fair Play for Women,” who tweeted in response that it was time for sports officials, particularly the Olympics committees, to “wake up” to the implications of allowing biological males to compete against females.
“Another Gold for male-born weightlifter Laurel Hubbard this time at the Pacific games,” the group tweeted on July 13. “Hubbard is on track for Olympic Gold at Tokyo 2020. It’s not the women in this photo who should be hanging their heads. Sports policy makers must wake up.”
Another Gold for male-born weightlifter Laurel Hubbard this time at the Pacific games. Hubbard is on track for Olympic Gold at Tokyo 2020. It’s not the women in this photo who should be hanging their heads. Sports policy makers must wake up. #FairPlayForWomen. pic.twitter.com/CJ8sT4Qkub
— FairPlayForWomen (@fairplaywomen) July 13, 2019
New Zealand-based women’s group “Speak Up For Women” is also calling on policymakers to take action to defend the integrity of women’s sports. “We’re calling on the Govt. to defend women’s sports following transwoman Laurel Hubbard taking the title in the over 87kg women’s weightlifting competition at the Pacific Games in Samoa last week,” the group tweeted last week.
“Our sporting orgs are enabling a practice that’s been described by researchers from Otago Uni as ‘intolerably unfair’ — male athletes competing in women’s sport…” the group added in a follow-up posts. “We’re calling on [New Zealand Olympics], [Sport New Zealand] and the Minister for Sport [Grant Robertson], to put a stop to disadvantaging women and girls by making clear in policy and practice that sport MUST be categorised by SEX and not gender identity.”
We’re calling on the Govt. to defend women’s sports following transwoman Laurel Hubbard taking the title in the over 87kg women’s weightlifting competition at the Pacific Games in Samoa last week. Come on @grantrobertson1 speak up for women’s sport https://t.co/Wh8fTmVbra
— Speak Up For Women (@SpeakUp4WomenNZ) July 21, 2019
We’re calling on @nzolympics, @SportNZ and the Minister for Sport @grantrobertson1, to put a stop to disadvantaging women and girls by making clear in policy and practice that sport MUST be categorised by SEX and not gender identity.
— Speak Up For Women (@SpeakUp4WomenNZ) July 28, 2019
“Kiwis (New Zealanders) know that males competing in women’s sport is blatantly unfair,” the group’s spokesperson Ani O’Brien said in comments reported by Reuters Monday.
As reported by Australia’s ABC, Hubbard’s dominating performance at the Pacific Games also prompted criticism from Samoa Prime Minister Tuilaepa Sailele, who told a local news outlet, “This fa’afafine [a Samoan third gender] or man should have never been allowed by the Pacific Games Council president to lift with the women.”
As of 2015, International Olympic Committee’s guidelines allow biological men to compete against women if their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for a minimum of one full year prior to their first competition. Many other sports committees have adopted the IOC’s policies.
But peer-reviewed studies, including one conducted by researchers at the University of Otago, found that the lowered testosterone levels are not only still “significantly higher” than that of most women but also that lowering them “does little to mitigate natural biological advantages enjoyed by male-born athletes, including bone and muscle density,” Reuters notes. The Otago study recommended that the IOC include an additional transgender category to prevent future unfair competitions.
Fair Play for Women research director, Dr Nicola Williams, who likewise calls for changes in the IOC transgender rules, arguing that they should be suspendend until more thorough research can be conducted.
“We must suspend the rules now and wait for that data in the next five, six, seven years and then decide,” Williams told ABC. “In the meantime there have to be other arrangements for transgender people so that they can compete fairly and females can compete fairly.”
Commenting on Hubbard’s Pacific Games victories, Williams said, “Any reduction in testosterone, even to zero, wouldn’t actually reverse the male performance advantage that someone has when they go through male puberty, because we can’t reverse that.”