Laurel Hubbard, first transgender athlete of the Olympics

Laurel Hubbard, first transgender athlete of the Olympics

A transgender athlete will participate in the Olympics for the first time in history. Laurel Hubbard, a New Zealand weightlifter, became from her classification one of the undisputed stars of the edition that will be remembered for a new achievement in terms of equality. The athlete is 43 years old and has been competing since her 20s, but only since 2012 has she done so in the female category. Despite the fact that she is not one of her favourites in her discipline, her presence is watched by many with concern.

On Monday, August 2 at 7.50 in Japan (19.50 on Sunday, August 1 in Uruguay) the New Zealand athlete will debut in group A of the +87 kilos category in women’s weightlifting.

Transgender and cisgender

The controversy was installed after the announcement of her participation, to which several opposed. Those who did so argued that Hubbard has an unfair physical advantage, arguing that trans women have on average more strength than cisgender women (a neologism that defines individuals whose gender identity coincides with their sexual phenotype, differentiating them, by the opposition, of transgender individuals). However, the evidence regarding the extent to which this affects athletic performance is still diffuse.

Regardless of the generalities, the truth is that Hubbard improved her results after her transition and that, after so many years of training, her muscles acquired a resistance that is not eliminated by harmonization.

Thomas Bach, president of the International Olympic Committee (IOC), stood firm in the face of criticism and defended Hubbard, but also acknowledged that the rules governing the participation of trans athletes are in the process of being built. Although this is an unprecedented case, it is not the only one. The limitations of the current binary category system have little novelty.

Background

One minute, 55 seconds, and 45 thousandths. That time was enough to change the life of Caster Semenya, the South African who, at just 18 years old, won the 800-meter event at the 2009 World Athletics Championships in Berlin. Her brand, which for any athlete would be the omen of a prosperous future, meant for Semenya the beginning of a career full of debates and judgments about her body.

In addition to her speed, her muscular build was striking. So much so that some people (including her fellow competitors) claimed that she was not a woman. Amid rumours and controversy, the International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) began an investigation into her sex, the results of which she never published. Although it was not officially confirmed, the most accepted version was released by the Australian media The Daily Telegraph, where it was ensured that, after an extensive series of analyzes, they had discovered that Semenya had neither a uterus nor ovaries, but did have internal testicles.

Without denying the different versions or providing any information, in 2010 the IAAF announced that Semenya would have the possibility to compete in the women’s category. To do so, she had to lower her testosterone levels through surgery or medications.

Four years later, a similar case reignited the debate when the Athletes’ Federation of India (AFI) suspended one of its athletes for the same reason that Semenya had been investigated. Dutee Chand, who was also 18 years old at the time of her exclusion, was notified that she would not be able to participate in the 2014 Commonwealth Games due to excess testosterone. After refusing to take medication or perform a surgical operation, Chand sued her country’s federation and the IAAF before the Court of Arbitration for Sport (TAS), which ultimately ruled in her favour.

The last provision of the matter was presented in 2018 when the IAAF modified the regulations on the eligibility of athletes whom it describes as people “with differences in sexual development” and set a limit on the levels of testosterone that an athlete must have to compete.

To contextualize, it is convenient to know that generally, the concentration of this hormone in women is 3.08 nanomoles per litre of blood, while in men the average is 10. The new regulation establishes that athletes can have a maximum of 5 nanomoles per litre, from at least six months before the competition. For those who exceed that figure, the possibility of resorting to a treatment or an intervention remains in force.

Although they are the most popular, these athletes are not the only ones who have suffered pressure from international organizations. According to a study cited by The New York Times, in 2012 four athletes between the ages of 18 and 21 had their testicles removed with the aim of lowering testosterone. In addition, they subjected them to interventions that exceeded the relative performance

 

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