An Olympic Athlete Speaks Out on the Participation of Transgender Athletes in Women’s Sports

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Tracey Lambrechs is not quieting down.

Lambrechs — a female weightlifter from New Zealand who took bronze in the 2014 Commonwealth Games, silver at the 2015 Pacific Games, and competed in the 2016 Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro — has retired from the sport. But that retirement appears to have lent her her voice back after several years of being cajoled into silence.

Laurel Hubbard is another Olympic-caliber athlete from New Zealand. In May, Hubbard qualified for the country’s female weightlifting team and will be part of its delegation to Tokyo later this summer. Until 2013, Hubbard was a participant in men’s competitions and in this capacity, Hubbard even managed to set what were at that time junior records in New Zealand.

Since transitioning however, Hubbard has achieved new levels of success, placing first at the 2017 World Masters Games as well as the 2017 and 2019 Commonwealth Championships, and second at the 2017 World Championships. Now, Hubbard is poised to become the first transitioned athlete in Olympic history, and many are eager to celebrate such a milestone.

There are two sides to every story, though, and Lambrechs is here to tell the other.

In 2017, Lambrechs was gearing up to compete in the 2018 Commonwealth Games when she was informed that if she wanted to participate, she would need do so in a different category than she was accustomed to.

“I was told if I wanted to go to the next Commonwealth Games I needed to lose 18 kilograms [the equivalent of almost 40 pounds] in three months or retire” Lambrechs told National Review. “Losing that much weight quickly was not ideal for my health and I suffered some severe migraines and started passing out a lot.”

When she raised her concerns over both Hubbard’s participation and its very visible consequences on her body and career, Lambrechs was instructed to be “resilient.”

“Psychologically speaking it’s very upsetting and stressful,” she explained, while also expressing her concern that other female athletes, and those without “the support team” around them that she benefitted by, have it much worse.

Instead of at minimum providing support for athletes whose physical and psychological well-being was being adversely affected by Hubbard’s participation, higher-ups responsible for managing the national team told athletes “to be quiet,” with the threat of reprisals hanging over their heads, according to Lambrechs.

“We were told not to talk to the media and were warned that if we did we could bring the sport into disrepute and then could miss out on being selected or could be dropped from national teams. The sports national body did not know how to handle the situation, so they had a knee-jerk reaction and thought silence would be best for them.”

For female athletes with the opinions on the matter of transgender athletes’ participation in women’s sports that Lambrechs has — and the willingness to express them so publicly — the waters are choppy. Consider, for example, the reaction to a USA Today guest column authored by a high-school track and field athlete who had been robbed of four state titles in Connecticut.

Not only did the newspaper that agreed to publish the piece edit it without the consent of its author, it added an editor’s note apologizing for not “reflect[ing] USA TODAY’s standards” and the use of “hurtful language.”

Moreover, some transgender advocates are eager to paint those with Lambrechs’s views as not only mistaken, but violent and hateful. On a May New York Times podcast, an American Civil Liberties Union lawyer accused American legislators seeking to protect the integrity of women’s sports of being motivated “on some level” by the “impulse” to “kill” transgender youth.

Lambrechs vigorously contests the idea that her own advocacy is the product of any kind of personal antipathy for those afflicted with gender dysphoria or who have chosen to address it by transitioning.

At the end of the day, this hasn’t been easy for Laurel either. The outcome I’m hoping for is the safety of women’s sports and the inclusion of transgendered athletes where they can participate in sport at what ever level and not be bullied or harassed.”

“Everybody has the right to be who they are and happy,” she added.

International Olympic Committee (IOC) rules allow transgender athletes to participate once their testosterone levels have dropped below 10 nanomoles per liter for a minimum of twelve months prior to the Games. As Lambrechs has observed, this is still well above the average concentration for females, which at its upper limit stands at around 2.5 nanomoles per liter, but can be as low as .5.

The rules do not presently address the other already-accrued muscular advantages conferred upon athletes who have gone through male puberty, but the IOC has announced that it is “developing new guidance to help ensure that athletes — regardless of their gender identity and/or sex characteristics — can engage in safe and fair competition.”

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