Peter Williams: The problem with transgender athletes

Opinion 06/03/2019
Laurel Hubbard. Photo: AAP.

By Peter Williams, Magic Talk mornings host.

OPINION: The arguments have started again - should a person born male who transitions to a female be allowed to compete in women’s sports events?

The subject is back in the news because Laurel Hubbard is back in the New Zealand weightlifting team for the Arafura Games in Darwin next month.

That just a couple of days after Martina Navratilova, one of the best women’s tennis players of all time and an absolute champion for gay rights, wrote this in the Sunday Times in London.

“A man can decide to be female, take hormones if required by whatever sporting organization is concerned, win everything in sight and perhaps earn a fortune, and then reverse his decision and go back to making babies if he desires. It’s insane and it’s cheating.”

Now she’s subsequently backtracked on using the word “cheating” but stands by the rest of what she wrote.

But the LBGQT community has come down on her big time. The community that used to embrace her because of her outspokenness on the rights of gay people since she came out nearly 40 years ago, is now very unhappy with her because she has insulted male to female transgender athletes - people like Laurel Hubbard.

Another high profile former international sportswoman, Sharon Davies, the English Olympic and Commonwealth Games swimmer from about 35 years ago has been heavily criticised for saying pretty much the same things as Martina.

Yet it’s hard to disagree with them.

The IOC allows the likes of Laurel Hubbard to compete because she has lowered testosterone levels, and is proving that in the women’s 90 kilogram weightlifting class she is world class and a potential world and Olympic champion. She already has a world championships silver medal and would have won a Commonwealth Games gold if she had just gone for gold instead of extending herself trying to break a record.

There’s also the downhill mountain biker Kate Weatherly. She won the New Zealand title a year ago, less than a month after competing as a man. But she complied with the rules so was allowed in and won easily.

So here’s the problem .. transgender athletes have rights to compete in the gender they now identify with.

But other athletes have rights too - the right to believe that they will be taking part in a fair competition, and despite testosterone levels being reduced to IOC standards, the reality is that a person born male, will be stronger than a person born female. That’s just how life works.

I don’t think, as Martina Navratilova says, it’s cheating to compete as a woman after being born male, but I certainly think it’s unfair on other competitors, and that is the problem. Everybody has rights to fairness, and I don’t think a transgender woman competing in a sport where strength and stamina are the key attributes - like weightlifting and mountain biking - is fair.

This is issue isn’t going away. For now, no trans athlete has won a world championship or Olympic gold medal. But the day isn’t far away. Now that Laurel Hubbard is back competing, she may well be the one who makes sure this issue remains front and centre.

Peter Williams is host of Magic Talk mornings.