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31st May 2021

Rival weightlifter says first trans athlete at Olympics is ‘like a bad joke’

George McKay

She said that her comments don’t “come from a place of rejection.”

Female weightlifter Anna Vanbellinghen has said that the inclusion of transgender athlete Laurel Hubbard at this year’s Olympics feels “like a bad joke.”

Hubbard is set to become the first transgender athlete to compete at an Olympic event when she competes at the weightlifting in Tokyo this summer. However her participation has been met with criticism from some of her competitors who have argued that Hubbard will have an unfair advantage having been born as a biological male.

Vanbellinghen has now said that the inclusion of trans athletes in sports should “not come at the expense of others.”

Speaking to insidethegames, the Belgian said: “First off, I would like to stress that I fully support the transgender community, and that what I’m about to say doesn’t come from a place of rejection of this athlete’s identity […] However, anyone that has trained weightlifting at a high level knows this to be true in their bones: this particular situation is unfair to the sport and to the athletes.

“I understand that for sports authorities nothing is as simple as following your common sense and that there are a lot of impracticalities when studying such a rare phenomenon, but for athletes, the whole thing feels like a bad joke.”

New Zealander Hubbard had previously competed in men’s weightlifting before transitioning in 2013, and has been eligible to compete at the Olympics since 2015. It was then that the International Olympic Committee (IOC) issued new guidelines allowing trans athletes to compete in women’s events, provided that they agree to have their testosterone levels monitored monthly in the year leading up to their first competition.

However these guidelines have faced criticism for supposedly not taking into account other “biological advantages” that athletes who were born as biological males may still benefit from despite transitioning.

But advocates for the inclusion of trans athletes at the highest levels of competition argue that cisgender athletes often benefit from their own biological advantages anyway, such as height.

Recently, an American doctor suggested that there is no evidence that trans women perform better at female sports that cis women, saying that the issue “isn’t as simple as natural testosterone.”

Vanbellinghen says she supports the transgender community, but feels their inclusion in women’s sports could result in other athletes missing out on medal opportunities.

“Life-changing opportunities are missed for some athletes – medals and Olympic qualifications – and we are powerless,” she said.