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Transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard set to take part in Tokyo 2020 after qualifying rules change

New Zealand weightlifter Laurel Hubbard is on track to become the first transgender athlete to compete at an Olympics after meeting modified qualifying requirements for the Tokyo Games.

Hubbard, 43, was born male but transitioned to female in her 30s. She competed in men's weightlifting competitions before transitioning in 2013.

Rival weightlifters and coaches have previously complained about her inclusion in the sport. 

Laurel Hubbard, 43, was born male but transitioned to female in her 30s. She competed in men's weightlifting competitions before transitioning in 2013 [File photo]

The New Zealand Olympic Committee (NZOC) said the International Weightlifting Federation (IWF) had revised its qualifying due to the impact of Covid-19, putting Hubbard in the frame for Tokyo selection.

'The NZOC can confirm that revised International Federation (IF) qualification systems are very likely to see a number of New Zealand weightlifters, including Commonwealth Games transgender athlete Laurel Hubbard, allocated an IF quota spot for Tokyo 2020,' the NZOC said in a statement.

'A previous requirement to attend six competition events has been reduced to four due to the impact of COVID-19.'

She has been eligible to compete in the Olympics since 2015, when the IOC issued guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition.

Some scientists have criticised these guidelines, saying they do little to mitigate the biological advantages of those who have gone through puberty as males, including bone and muscle density.

Advocates for transgender inclusion argue the process of transition decreases that advantage considerably and that physical differences between athletes mean there is never a truly level playing field in sport.

Hubbard is aiming to make New Zealand's Tokyo Olympics squad to contest the women's +87kg category, an event in which she is currently ranked 16th in the world. 

Hubbard is aiming to make New Zealand's Tokyo Olympics squad to contest the women's +87kg category, an event in which she is currently ranked 16th in the world [File photo]

The NZOC said it expected nomination and selection for its weightlifting team would not happen until June, when it would have a final list of qualified athletes from the IWF.

'Prior to that all athletes must provide evidence of capability to finish in the top 16 at the Games, with the potential to achieve a top 8 placing,' the NZOC added.

Weightlifting New Zealand, the national body for the sport, did not provide immediate comment when contacted by Reuters news agency,  but has been a staunch supporter of Hubbard's right to lift in women's competitions.

Hubbard rarely gives interviews but told Radio New Zealand in 2017 that she just wanted to compete in the sport she loves and had 'blocked out' criticism [File photo]

The NZOC said: 'The New Zealand Team has a strong culture of manaaki (caring), inclusion and respect for all.'

Weightlifting has been at the centre of the debate over the fairness of transgender athletes competing in women's sports, and Hubbard's presence in Tokyo could prove divisive.

Her gold medal wins at the 2019 Pacific Games in Samoa, where she topped the podium ahead of Samoa's Commonwealth Games champion Feagaiga Stowers, triggered outrage in the island nation.

Australia's weightlifting federation sought to block Hubbard from competing at the 2018 Commonwealth Games on the Gold Coast but organisers rejected the move.

Rival weightlifters and coaches at the Commonwealth Games also complained.

Hubbard withdrew from the tournament after injuring herself lifting, allowing Stowers to take gold in the 90+kg division.

Some on social media have criticised Hubbard's potential inclusion in the upcoming Olympics, saying it would be unfair to other women to allow her to compete.

'The female weightlifters should boycott & change the course of this 'making of history',' one Twitter user wrote.

Others referred to Hubbard as a 'cheat' and insinuated she would be taking the spot from another woman.

Hubbard rarely gives interviews but told Radio New Zealand in 2017 that she just wanted to compete in the sport she loves and had 'blocked out' criticism.

'If I try and take that weight on board it just makes the lifts harder... I am who I am,' she said.

'I don't want to change the world. I just want to be me and do what I do.' 

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