“[…] New Zealander weight lifter Laurel Hubbard, formerly Gavin, has been granted permission to compete as a female weightlifter. Laurel, formerly Gavin, is transgender who used to compete as a male but has satisfied the following criteria.
“[…] The first opposition has come from ‘naturally-occurring females’. Quoting scientific research, they claim that ‘any male who has undergone puberty retains significant advantages in power and strength, even after taking medication to suppress their testosterone levels’…”
The following Letter to the Editor from Rae Samuel of Balmain looks at the inclusion of New Zealand transgender weight lifter Laurel Hubbard in the context of the supposed ‘unfair advantage’ of South Africa long distance runner Caster Semenya:
As if the debate over staging the Tokyo Olympics amidst such a deadly pandemic were not enough, the International Olympic Committee (IOC) has introduced a new element of controversy, which will rage long after the Covid-19 virus has been brought under control.
New Zealander weight lifter Laurel Hubbard, formerly Gavin, has been granted permission to compete as a female weightlifter. Laurel, formerly Gavin, is transgender who used to compete as a male but has satisfied the following criteria.
Laurel has ‘for the past four years demonstrated that her testosterone level is below 10 nano-moles per litre for at least 12 months before competition as well as throughout the eligibility period’.
The first opposition has come from ‘naturally-occurring females’. Quoting scientific research, they claim that ‘any male who has undergone puberty retains significant advantages in power and strength, even after taking medication to suppress their testosterone levels’.
Additionally, even when transgender women suppressed testosterone levels for 12 months, the loss of lean body mass, muscle area and strength was only 5%; transwomen retaining most of their strength.
What jumps out here is that we are not dealing with naturally-born females. Classification in sports is done by ‘sex and not by gender’.
The former is clearly observable and biologically determined while gender is/can be a variable social construct. Therefore, transitions have to be made by medical interventions or procedures. This is tantamount to legitimising substance abuse. An athlete who undergoes a medical process which modifies the naturally occurring anatomy and physiology gains an unfair advantage.
Sport, across the spectrum, has policed and sanctioned such practice heavily over the last four to five decades. This is how World Anti-Doping Agency, The Court of Arbitration for Sport and other such bodies came into being.
There is no need to remind how severe they have been on defaulters, going so far as to ban an entire nation, Russia, from some forms of competition. Now we see this.
Now we turn to a part of the story that is going to have the real controversy, to use a kind word. South African Olympic and World champion long distance runner, Mokgadi Caster Semenya, was deemed to have an unfair advantage over other female competitors because of her natural levels of testosterone supposedly exceeded the threshold for females.
No one, as far as I have been able to discover, can state what is an acceptable natural level. This dives into the realm of heredity, culture, diet, environment, life style—matters which are as diverse as the human species biologically.
In its 163 page, 632-point ruling the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) noted that: ‘The IAAF should prioritise biology over gender identity… The sport of athletics is divided in a binary fashion and the division is not challenged’.
Probably what is most revealing is its final ruling: ‘For reasons that are explained, the majority of the panel find that the Difference of Sexual Development/DSD rules are discriminatory but on the evidence currently before it, such discrimination is necessary, reasonable and proportionate, as a means of achieving the aim of what is described as the integrity of the female athletes and upholding of the protected class of female athletes’.
This seems to suggest that the IOC is standing in contradiction to CAS ruling, effectively exposing ‘the protected class’ of female athletes in certain events.
I have gone to such lengths to revisit the Caster Semenya issue because Hubbard has displaced 21-year-old born female Kuinini Manumua of Tonga, who would have been competing in her first Olympics. There were three spots available for weightlifters in the Oceania region and Laurel has bumped Ms Manumua out of a chance to represent Tonga in Tokyo.
Whether we like it or not, this aspect of the matter will become part of the emerging furore.
Where does this leave Trinidad and Tobago? It is early times yet for us. Any transgender athlete seeking to represent us will have precedent on their side.