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Seeing New Zealander Laurel Hubbard stand atop the highest podium at the Pacific Games weightlifting competition puts the imminent decline of women’s sports into sharp focus. Hubbard, 41 years old, held the gold while flanked by Samoa’s Commonwealth Games gold medalist Feagaiga Stowers and Iuniana Sipaia, winners of the silver and bronze, respectively.
This is an interesting conundrum for folks who believe that trans women are women but also believe that it’s not right for the west to impose their ideologies on developing nations. In this case, what is more important? Hubbard’s right to compete as a woman even though bodily Hubbard is male, or Samoa’s right to not have their efforts trounced by rich nations?
Athletics are about fairness in competition. When individuals who have gone through puberty as males compete against those who have not, it is not fair competition. This is especially true in a sport that is all about upper body strength, like weightlifting.
Hubbard transitioned after entering adulthood as a male and retained all the advantages of having grown up male. Hubbard has reduced testosterone levels to the point where the International Olympic Committee allows the transgender athlete to compete against women.
No amount of identifiers, makeup tutorials, or cute spring dresses can compensate for dominant, male upper body strength. The women on their diminutive podiums knew that. Samoan Prime Minister Tuilaepa Dr. Sa’ilele Malielegaoi knew that too and went so far as to appeal to the Pacific Games Council.
Tuilaepa not only has a problem with Hubbard competing in women’s athletics, forcing losses for Stowers and Sipaia, two Samoan athletes at the Pacific Games, he takes issue with the IOC’s continued rule changes to benefit wealthier nations.
Tuilaepa’s observations were reported by the Samoa Observer:
“The same with rugby,” he said, “where World Rugby Council has allowed Britain to have four rugby teams when all the other countries each have one team.
“And yet it is allowed by the World Rugby Council.
“When the Olympics allowed rugby, the British attempted to have four teams but it was flatly denied.”
The Prime Minister said it appears the Pacific Games is following suit, which has led to the Laurel Hubbard case and the controversy it has created.
“I made a public announcement on national TV,” he said. “I questioned the legitimacy of allowing transgender to lift with women. It is not easy for the female athletes to train all year long to compete and yet we allow these stupid things to happen.
“The reality is that gold medal belongs to Samoa,” he said.
How is it acceptable for the IOC, with the progressive, western values it represents, to decimate the strides made by Samoan female athletes, never mind this whole Rugby debacle? Tuilaepa’s take is that there should be separate categories for those who do not fit neatly into men’s and women’s sporting categories.
That does seem like a rational take, but when takes like that are posited in the west, the pushback is strong and fierce. The argument is that to separate trans individuals from those with whose gender they identify is to further marginalize them. Affirmation is considered the only acceptable option. Anything else is thought to be damaging to the mental state of trans individuals.
There is no concern for the damage done to female, Samoan athletes, who work hard to win these competitions, only to be shown up by a male-bodied person. Male bodied persons competing in women’s sports is one of the odd, sort of unexpected issues to have arisen from the impact the trans movement has made on culture.
Insisting that male-bodied persons are within their rights to challenge women in sports has created turmoil for women athletes from high school up to Martina Navratilova. The question keeps being raised as to whether it’s more important for trans athletes to compete based on their identity, or women athletes to be able to compete within their similar ability.
Women don’t have a choice as to whether or not they are born women. Sex is not assigned at birth, it is observed. Growing up female necessarily means having less upper body strength than male counterparts.
Trans individuals have a right to live however they choose. But the fact of being trans does not mean that the rights of women to fair competition should be overruled. Those rights were trounced with regard to the Samoan female weightlifters.
In Japan 2020 we may begin to see this override of women’s rights to fair sport on an international stage. To see men taking home gold in women’s Olympic sporting events would be an embarrassment to western values of inclusiveness and fair-mindedness, and an insult to those cultures that do not assume that men are women just because they say so.