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Opinion: Laurel Hubbard

  • August 02, 2021

Did she overdo it? With two failed attempts and one deemed invalid over 120 and 125 kilograms, weightlifter Laurel Hubbard was eliminated early in the over 87 kilograms weight class.

The load was too heavy in the end. It is difficult to say which part is due to the weights on the bar and which to the discussions about her own life choices. The New Zealander who officially became the first transgender athlete to compete in the Olympics.

Why does the transgender issue affect sports?

In doing so, the 43-year-old challenged not only her weightlifting competitors, but the entire sport. A sport that – except for a few disciplines – is based on a two-gender system and thus excludes certain groups of people.

No other area of our society is so entrenched in a binary system. After all sport needs categories and rules to suggest fair competition.

Laurel Hubbard has complied with all the rules and requirements imposed by the International Olympic Committee (IOC) on transgender athletes. It was therefore her performance which earned her Olympic participation.

How fair these rules, which were set up by the IOC in 2015 and will be revised after the Tokyo Games, can be is another question.

Laurel Hubbard was knocked out early at the Olympics

Is sport fair?

The fact is that sport was, is and will never be completely fair. 

That’s because society accepts physical advantages like Usain Bolt’s fast muscle fibers, technical advantages like Lewis Hamilton’s faster car – and it accepts the better training opportunities for competitive athletes in rich, industrialized nations. 

But it questions, often in discriminatory ways, the participation of transgender athletes in athletic competition.

Is the anachronistic sports system sustainable?

If the issue of transgender rights weas really about fairness, there should be talk and discussion not only about the supposed advantages of trans athletes, but also about the supposed disadvantages of trans athletes. Or about the psychological burdens placed on trans people by surgery, hormone therapy, and societal discrimination. All of which can have a huge impact on success in competitive sports.

Transgender athletes, at least top athletes like Laurel Hubbard, force us to question the anachronistic two-gender norm, as well as the criteria of fairness, and challenge us to look at a new and contemporary direction for sport. One that shows there’s success beyond medals.

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