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International Olympic Committee backs biological male weightlifter who identifies as female competing against women in Tokyo

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The International Olympic Committee has backed New Zealand's selection of transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard for the Tokyo Olympics, Reuters reported.

What are the details?

Hubbard, 43, is a biological male who competed in men's weightlifting competitions before transitioning to female in 2013. Hubbard has been competing against women for several years — and that has angered several women's rights groups who say Hubbard's presence represents unfair competition.

But the IOC said over the weekend that under current rules Hubbard can compete, Reuters reported, adding that the rules will be reviewed in the future.

"The rules for qualification have been established by the International Weightlifting Federation before the qualifications started," IOC President Thomas Bach said, according to the outlet. "These rules apply, and you cannot change rules during ongoing competitions."

However, Bach said the rules would be looked at again in the future in order to set new guidelines, Reuters added.

"At the same time the IOC is in an inquiry phase with all different stakeholders ... to review these rules and finally to come up with some guidelines which cannot be rules because this is a question where there is no one-size-fits-all solution," Bach said at a news conference, according to the outlet. "It differs from sport to sport."

More from Reuters:

The IOC had cleared the way in 2015 for transgender athletes to compete at the Games as women, provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition.

Some scientists have said the guidelines do little to mitigate the biological advantages of those who have gone through puberty as males, such as bone and muscle density.

Supporters of 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 set to become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Games after being selected for the New Zealand team in the women's super-heavyweight 87+kg category, the outlet noted.

More pushback

Opposition to Hubbard competing against women has been considerable:

  • NFL Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre said Hubbard should not be permitted to compete in women's events at the Tokyo Games, noting "it's a man competing as a woman. That's unfair!
  • A rival weightlifter who was looking to compete in Hubbard's weight category for the Olympics recently said Hubbard's presence is "like a bad joke" to biological female athletes. Anna Van Bellinghen of Belgium told Inside the Games it's widely known that athletes can retain the benefit of taking steroids even years earlier — so therefore "why is it still a question whether two decades, from puberty to the age of 35, with the hormonal system of a man also would give an advantage [in competing against women]?"
  • In the wake of Hubbard's rise to prominence, female weightlifters who've complained about Hubbard competing against them allegedly were told to "be quiet" by the sports' powers that be.

Here's Hubbard in action in early 2020:

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