The rival of a transgender weightlifter set to compete at this year’s Olympics has said her inclusion in the competition is ‘like a bad joke.’
New Zealander Laurel Hubbard is set to become the first transgender athlete to compete in an Olympic event, however her participation has been met with questions by her rivals, many of whom have argued Hubbard has an ‘unfair’ advantage.
Now, just three months before the games are set to take place in Tokyo, fellow weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen, who competes in the same category as Hubbard, has said the inclusion of transgender athletes should not come ‘at the expense of others.’
Speaking to insidethegames, the Belgian weightlifter said:
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 […] 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.
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.
Hubbard initially competed in men’s weightlifting competitions before transitioning in 2013, and has been eligible to compete at the Olympics since 2015, when the International Olympic Committee issued new guidelines allowing transgender athletes to compete in women’s events provided they agree to have their testosterone levels monitored monthly in the year before their first competition.
The guidelines have faced criticism from those who believe they do not account for other ‘biological advantages’ of athletes who went through male puberty before transitioning.
Advocates for transgender inclusion at the highest levels of competition argue that cisgender elite athletes often enjoy their own biological advantages, whether through fast-twitch muscles or height advantage.
Some transgender athletes have also said that hormone replacement therapy has actually decreased their natural athletic abilities, causing them to lose muscles mass and stamina, ABC News reports.
Testosterone monitoring has also been criticised by some who feel it ‘forces’ athletes to prove their gender. Olympic gold medallist Caster Semenya, who is intersex and assigned female at birth, has been unable to compete in international events since 2019 as she refuses to take medication to suppress her hormone levels, a situation she told The Guardian was like ‘taking the soul out of my body.’
Vanbellinghen says she supports the transgender community, but feels their inclusion in women’s sports could result in other athletes missing out on medal opportunities.
‘Life-changing opportunities are missed for some athletes – medals and Olympic qualifications – and we are powerless,’ she said.