Fairness

Janice Turner on The Laurel Hubbard Question:

Samoa enjoys few sporting glories but it excels at weightlifting. Feagaiga Stowers, just 20, a child sexual abuse survivor who started lifting while living in a domestic violence shelter, won gold at the 2018 Commonwealth Games. She looked a cert for the 2019 Pacific Games too, but instead the podium was topped by 41-year-old trans woman Laurel Hubbard. Bumped to second place, Stowers and team mate Iuniarra Sipaia, who took bronze, hung their heads in dismay.

While inferior athlete Laurel Hubbard loomed over them in cheating triumph.

Back in Samoa, the response was more baffled than furious. The prime minister asked how it could be fair that this New Zealand fa’afafine was competing against women. The question will echo across the world on Monday when Hubbard competes in the Olympic women’s 87kg-plus weightlifting. Stowers and team mates aren’t even there. Covid risk is the official reason. But given that all other qualifying Samoans are in Tokyo, there’s speculation the female lifters are protesting at the injustice of their event.

Reviewing Helen Joyce’s recent book Trans, my colleague David Aaronovitch remarked that her tone was too angry. But when I think about Stowers battling such odds, or Roviel Detenamo, only 18, a lifter from even poorer Nauru, denied her first Olympics because Hubbard took her qualifying slot, I’m filled with white-hot rage.

Same here, and it happens all over again every time I see Hubbard smugly proceeding along this path of stealing medals from women, and women of color at that.

Men like the International Olympic Committee’s medical and science director Dr Richard Budgett have no skin in this game. “Everyone agrees that trans women are women,” he said this week, “a lot of aspects of physiology and anatomy and the mental side contribute to elite performance.”

Everyone agrees that men are women? I think you’ll find that it’s not quite everyone.

Now the IOC rules state that any male who wants to punch female boxers or run the women’s 100 metres must simply get their testosterone below 10 nanomoles per litre for a year. The normal testosterone range for women, including elite athletes? It’s 0.12-1.78 nmol/L. So even when applying this one paltry measure of fairness — the level of rocket-fuel male hormone — they didn’t try for parity. Five to ten times the female norm was just fine. And what if a woman athlete used drugs to raise her testosterone to 10nmol/L? She’d be disqualified for doping.

How is that fair exactly? It isn’t, but they’re doing it anyway, because hey it’s only women who lose out.

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