'It's not for us to judge': NZOC boss says decisions on transgender athletes down to international federations

Laurel Hubbard won the women's over 90kg division title at an international event in Melbourne last weekend.
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Laurel Hubbard won the women's over 90kg division title at an international event in Melbourne last weekend.

New Zealand Olympic Committee boss Kereyn Smith says it is not for her organisation to judge whether or not transgender Kiwi weightlifter Laurel Hubbard should be competing on the international stage.

In what is understood to be a first for sport in New Zealand, Hubbard competed in the Australian international event in Melbourne on Sunday.

The 39-year-old, who is believed to have transitioned in her mid-30s, dominated on her way to winning the women's over 90kg division, reaching a total 19kg better than her nearest rival.

While Hubbard was congratulated by her competitors during the ceremony, her participation did not please everyone, with two-time Australian Olympian Deborah Acason saying she wouldn't feel like it was in an "even situation" if she was competing in that category.

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Under International Olympic Committee guidelines released in January last year, transgender athletes should be allowed to compete internationally without having to undergo sex reassignment surgery.

The only stipulation of the guidelines - which are designed as recommendations not rules or regulations - for male to female athletes is their need to keep their testosterone levels below a certain point for at least a year before competing.

Smith said the NZOC had been contemplating the issue of transgender athletes for some time through their integrity committee, but added the decision of fairness was sport-specific and ultimately one for the international federation of each sport to make.

"It is not for us to judge, but my sense is the question of gender identity is probably the next big challenge for global sport.

"The responsibility sits with international federations to have really clear and considered policies on their position with transgender athletes, if they don't then their national federations are also not clear.

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"The onus really sits in the international domain and at this point international federations need to heighten their focus on this, acknowledge the issue and start to deal with it in a very pro-active manner."

Hubbard's performance puts her very much in contention for the New Zealand weightlifting team for next year's Commonwealth Games on Australia's Gold Coast.

Assuming the International Weightlifting Federation policy on transgender athletes remained unchanged and she was nominated by Olympic Weightlifting NZ, Smith said Hubbard would be selected pending residency checks and successfully meeting qualification standards.

Asked what she made of some of the less positive response to Hubbard's win in Melbourne at the weekend, Smith took a diplomatic approach.

"This is a really complex issue, even in society, and it's becoming more obvious every day that sport is simply a reflection of issues in society.

"We are seeing it is quite emotive and becomes quite sensitive, all those emotions come into play, notwithstanding this was an internationally sanctioned event and the International Weightlifting Federation determine what is safe and fair in their sport.

"To best my understanding the event was conducted in that spirit within those rules."

In making the changes to their consensus last year, the IOC said a requirement for surgical changes to ones anatomy were no longer necessary to preserve fair competition and "may be" inconsistent with developing legislation and notions of human rights.

Their previous guidelines, they added, were in need of updating given the rising prominence of transgender issues in a social and political sense.

Smith, who stressed the IOC consensus was simply a starting point for international federations to make their own regulations, was in no doubt it was an area which would need to be carefully navigated in the coming years.

"This has been really tough for everyone involved. It's been quite challenging for Olympic Weightlifting New Zealand, obviously for Laurel and those she is competing against.

"Our job is just to help our members navigate way through this and support them in their work with their international federation, ensuring they are getting the answers to the questions they need."

 - Stuff

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