Judith Collins calls for 'honest conversation' about trans women in sports amid backlash over Kiwi weightlifter Laurel Hubbard

National leader Judith Collins is calling for an "honest conversation" about trans women in sports amid backlash against Kiwi weightlifter Laurel Hubbard's selection for the Olympics. 

"I think anybody who gets chosen to be an Olympic team member has already gone through a tremendous amount. I'm in awe of anybody who can get to that level," Collins said on Tuesday. 

"But I'd also say that this is clearly an issue that needs to be discussed in a reasoned and sensible way, because there is the issue of biological women being unfairly unable to actually compete because they're competing against transgender women who were born biologically male."

Hubbard will create history as part of New Zealand's weightlifting team for next month's Tokyo Olympics. The New Zealand Olympic Committee confirmed on Monday the 43-year-old transgender athlete had been selected to contest the women's +87kg category, becoming the first transgender Olympian.

"I am grateful and humbled by the kindness and support that has been given to me by so many New Zealanders," Hubbard said in a statement issued by the New Zealand Olympic Committee.

Hubbard has been eligible to compete at the Olympics since 2015, when the International Olympic Committee issued guidelines allowing any transgender athlete to compete as a woman provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition.

Hubbard's eligibility has stirred plenty of controversy, with Belgian rival Anna Van Bellinghen among those who believe she has an unfair advantage. Some scientists have criticised the guidelines, saying they do little to mitigate the biological advantages of those who have gone through puberty as males, including bone and muscle density.

UK broadcaster Pier Morgan wrote a scathing editorial for Mail Online about Hubbard's selection for New Zealand's Olympic team. 

National leader Judith Collins.
National leader Judith Collins. Photo credit: Newshub / Zane Small

"As I've said many times, I support transgender rights to equality and fairness - but not when those rights damage women's rights to equality and fairness," he wrote. "This is unfair and unequal. And it's not 'transphobic' to say this, it's just common sense."

Collins says the backlash needs to be considered.  

"I think most people, like me, have no problem whatsoever with anybody's sexuality or whether or not someone's transgender. The issue comes when other people unfortunately are disadvantaged, so I think there needs to be some work done and I think that work needs to be done with the Olympic Committee and I think we all need to have a good, honest conversation.

"I think there is clearly this issue that if the work is being done to a satisfactory standard, then we would have more people supporting Laurel. 

"I think it's really hard for Laurel. She is who she is and she's trying to do her very best and I'd hate to see any bullying or horrible comments about Laurel because she's doing what she wants to do. 

Kiwi weightlifter Laurel Hubbard.
Kiwi weightlifter Laurel Hubbard. Photo credit: Getty

"But I do think there is an issue that needs to be addressed somehow. I'm not sure I've got the answers to that but I think it is something we need to consider."

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the New Zealand Olympic Committee followed the rules. 

"The alternative is to have someone who's followed the rules but is then denied the ability to participate, and so ultimately, I leave it to those bodies, and that's the decision they've made and it's in keeping with the standard that's been set globally."

Sports Minister Grant Robertson echoed Ardern. 

"I'm extremely proud of Laurel Hubbard as I am of all of New Zealand's Olympic team. She's met the qualification criteria, she deserves to be there, and we'll be supporting her."

Collins recently defended Speak Up for Women, a group opposed to sex self-identification, after a Christchurch venue blocked it from hosting a speaking event over complaints.