Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern is backing the New Zealand Olympic Committee over their selection of weightlifter Laurel Hubbard for the upcoming Games in Tokyo.
Hubbard is set to become the first transgender athlete in Games history after she was officially selected in the women’s super heavyweight category on Monday.
The selection has been a polarising one, with weightlifting at the centre of the debate over the fairness of transgender athletes competing against women.
Asked about Hubbard’s selection, Ardern said the situation had been handled by the book.
“Parties here have simply followed the rules,” the Prime Minister said on Tuesday.
“That’s the case for Laurel but also the team in New Zealand – they have followed the rules.
“The alternative is to have someone who followed the rules but then is denied the ability to participate.
“So, ultimately, I leave it to those bodies and that’s the decision they’ve made and that’s within the standard that’s been set globally.”
But it was that very standard which some were criticising in the wake of Hubbard’s selection.
Even British media personality Piers Morgan was weighing in, saying that while he wasn’t blaming Hubbard, the “uncomfortable truth” was the decision was a “disaster for women’s sport.”
New Zealand’s opposition leader wasn’t going that far.
However National’s Judith Collins said while she would hate to see Hubbard bullied or attacked, a honest conversation needed to be had.
“This is clearly an issue which needs to be discussed in a reasoned and sensible way.
“There is the issue of biological women being unable to actually compete because they are competing against transgender women who were born biologically male.
“There’s is actually, unfortunately, that issue.”
Another issue was the potential distraction for the four other New Zealand weightlifters selected, both now and at the Games themselves.
Commonwealth Games champion David Liti said he was simply focussing on what he could control, and team-mate Cameron McTaggart was of a similar opinion.
“I’m just focussing on my own training and doing everything I can to focus on my performance,” McTaggart said.
“At the end of the day, it’s not a team sport, it’s about the individual so I’m just focussing on myself.”
The nature of weightlifting may also help with the likely attention on the team.
McTaggart said the mental strength required to perform in the sport was something he had worked hard on with coach and three-time Olympian Richie Patterson.
“All eyes are on you and if you’re not comfortable and used to that situation it is extremely overwhelming.
“Richie’s definitely given me the tools to help cope with those pressures and that’s really invaluable.”
As for Liti, whatever came, it would be hard to wipe the smile off his face.
Despite having no idea what to expect in Tokyo, he couldn’t wait to add to his Commonwealth gold from 2018.
“I like to be a person who will just go with the flow, roll with the punches.
“With Commonwealth Games, I walked in and I’ve never been to a place like that. For the Olympics to be a bigger event, I know for sure when I walk in I’ll be more surprised with how it is [but] I’m excited to see what it’s like.”
Liti, and his four team-mates, had just a few more weeks to wait before they found out.
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