Tokyo Olympics: Former weightlifter Tracey Lambrechs condemns selection of transgender athlete Laurel Hubbard

Former Olympic weightlifter Tracey Lambrechs has condemned the selection of transgender athlete Laurel Hubbard for the NZ team to Tokyo next month.

Hubbard's selection has been confirmed by the NZ Olympic Committee, making her the first transgender sportswoman to compete at the Games.

While her pending selection has previously raised hackles around the world, the announcement hits particularly close to home for Lambrechs, who was forced to drop 17kg and compete in a lighter weight division, when Hubbard began competing as a woman in 2017. 

The South African-born lifter represented New Zealand at three Commonwealth Games, winning a bronze medal in +75kg division at Glasgow 2014.

She contested the same weight class - the heaviest on the programme - at the 2016 Rio Olympics, but had to slim down considerably to make the under-90kg class at the Gold Coast Commonwealth Games two years later, with Hubbard selected in the heavier event. 

Lambrechs has now retired, but is disappointed that her former rival will be allowed to compete at sport's highest level.

"I understand the NZOC and Olympic Weightlifting NZ are only following guidelines and rules - as is Laurel - but I think now we have to say 'this is happening, how can we make this process better and safer in the future for any other transgender athletes coming through, and how can we make sure women’s sport isn’t greatly affected by this outcome'.

"It's a straightforward game qualifying for something - if you hit the numbers, if you're in the rankings, nothing should stop you from being able to go.

"Obviously, in this situation, there are other criteria that Laurel had to hit and she’s done that, so Laurel’s done nothing wrong. The NZOC and OWNZ have done nothing but follow the guidelines, but I think it's the guidelines, and IWF and IOC need to look at themselves and their policies, and think 'is what we're doing here the best way it could be done?'"

Hubbard finished runner-up at the 2017 world championships, but failed to medal at the Gold Coast, suffering an elbow injury while leading the +90kg competition.

Her quest for Tokyo Olympic selection has sparked a determined campaign among former Olympians, as Sport NZ attempts to clarify the status of transgender athletes at all levels of competition.

"Biologically, they are not [a woman]," former Olympic swimmer and sports medicine specialist Dave Gerrard told The AM Show this month. 

"Yes, you have transitioned, but you are still biologically a male, with the benefits that have accrued through the post-pubertal effects of testosterone. 

"There is nothing magic about that - it's science and physiology - it's been well and truly explored through literature, so the evidence is there." 

Announcing Hubbard's selection, NZ Olympic Committee chief executive Kereyn Smith has addressed the debate.

"We acknowledge that gender identity in sport is a highly sensitive and complex issue requiring a balance between human rights and fairness on the field of play," says Smith.

"As the NZ team, we have a strong culture of 'manaaki', and inclusion and respect for all. We are committed to supporting all eligible New Zealand athletes, and ensuring their mental and physical wellbeing - along with their high-performance needs - while preparing for and competing at the Olympic Games are met."

Lambrechs acknowledges there are no easy answers, but there must be better solutions for all concerned. 

"Laurel has been selected, Laurel's going to Tokyo, nothing's going to change that," she tells Newshub. "We should looking how we can make this easier and better in the future.

"I doubt this is easy on Laurel, I doubt this is easy on anyone... it hasn't been easy on myself at certain times, but there is a way to make things better and that's what we should be trying to do."