Tokyo Olympics: with Laurel Hubbard, the debate on transgender athletes comes to the Games



Bib 142. Laurel Hubbard, 43 years old. First transgender athlete at the Olympics. It will be 7:50 p.m. in Tokyo (12:50 p.m. in Paris), Monday, August 2, when she will lift her first Olympic dumbbells. And, regardless of the performance, its name in the history of the Olympics.

The New Zealander started weightlifting for men in her youth. Gavin, his name then, was one of the best of his discipline in the archipelago. Among the juniors, she set a national record at 20. Three years then passed on the world circuit, but the pressure was too great. Gavin quits, becomes Laurel, and takes hormone therapy at age 34. In one of her rare speeches, she explains having initially chosen weightlifting thinking that this sport would help her get closer to a “Male archetype”. In vain.

Fiery debates

Four years later, it’s time to return to competition. In women this time. Vice-world champion in 2017, in gold at the 2019 Pacific Games and at the 2020 World Cup in Rome… Laurel succeeds, and provokes heated debates. Some of its competitors and scientists consider that this transition after puberty gave it a decisive advantage. His early years of training would have allowed him to acquire superior muscle strength and bone density.

Belgian weightlifter Anna Van Bellinghen, present in Tokyo in the same category (over 87 kg), for example denounced a situation two months ago “Unfair” and requested the development of a framework ” more strict “ on the conditions of participation of transgender athletes.

The performance of the New Zealander in Tokyo will be particularly scrutinized, and could revive the debate. As if to anticipate a possible controversy, the scientific and medical director of the International Olympic Committee (IOC) Richard Budgett spoke on FridayJuly 30 at a press conference to defend the rules in force, which according to him guarantee “The balance between security, inclusion and equity”.

→ READ. French sportsmen find their colors in Tokyo

All while recognizing that there is insufficient scientific knowledge to assess the possible benefits of trans athletes, not to mention the consequences. “Physiological and mental” of their transition. On a ridge line, the IOC has announced that its recommendations will be updated in the coming months.

Testosterone level

If Laurel Hubbard is only the first transgender athlete to participate in the Games, the possibility has existed since 2004. The conditions were then to follow hormonal treatment, but also to undergo sex reassignment surgery. This last requirement was withdrawn in 2015. To compete for women, you need a testosterone level of less than 10 nanomoles per liter of blood over the twelve months preceding the first competition. The hormone, produced more extensively in men, improves strength, power and speed. It could be at the center of future debates.

So much for the framework, but the rules are then decreed by each international federation, according to the particularities of each sport. That of weightlifting followed the IOC but that of rugby “Do not recommend” the participation of transgender women in high-level competitions, ” For safety reasons “. And several federations, including those of athletics and cycling, go further than the IOC by placing the limit at 5 nanomoles per liter.

If Laurel Hubbard is the first transgender woman to compete in the Olympics after a start in her career with men, a non-binary transgender athlete – feeling neither a man nor a woman, or both at the same time – has already trod the Japanese lawns during these Games. This is Quinn, a member of the Canadian women’s football team.

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