A British doctor who has advised the International Olympic Committee on transgender athletes says the decision to allow weightlifter Laurel Hubbard to compete against cisgender women in Tokyo may be judged as “less than ideal” — but was not a mistake.
Dr. Joanna Harper, a researcher at Loughborough University in England, told the BBC Radio 4’s “Woman’s Hour” that the IOC made the right call regarding Hubbard.
“I think that it is possible that history will say that this is a less than ideal decision, but I don’t think it’s a mistake,” Harper said.
Hubbard, 43, made her debut Monday as the first trans athlete to compete at the Olympics, but couldn’t complete any of her first three lifts and was eliminated from medal contention in the women’s over-87-kilogram super-heavyweights division.
The New Zealander, who transitioned in 2012, met the qualifying criteria on levels of testosterone set by the IOC, which revised its rules on trans athletes in 2016.
Harper, whose research has focused on trans runners like herself, believes that hormone treatments mitigate any advantages that trans female athletes may have in competing against cisgender athletes.
“It doesn’t have to be equal to be fair, all that needs to happen is that the extreme differences need to be mitigated to the point where we can have meaningful competition,” she said.
However, Harper raised doubts about the sport of weightlifting specifically.
“In most sports, it is probably true that hormone therapy mitigates the advantages, enough. Now, most sports do not necessarily include Olympic weightlifting,” she said.
“And I would admit that of all the sports that I might be concerned with, Olympic weightlifting might be near the top of the list.”
She added: “I’m not 100 percent convinced (that the advantages have been mitigated), no, but I think that, again, the Olympics are happening, and I think that having Laurel Hubbard and other trans athletes in games is not markedly unfair.”
Speaking on Sky News before Monday’s event, Harper said it seemed like Hubbard was not at an advantage compared to the rest of the field.
“Yes, Laurel has advantages – but within this group of 14 women that she is competing against, Laurel is probably somewhere in the middle of the pack,” the researcher said.
“She could theoretically finish anywhere from third to 14th – and isn’t that sort of the definition of fair competition that a lot of things could potentially happen?”