Some transgender athletes can ‘definitely’ have advantages - professor

Morning Talk 06/04/2018
Laurel Hubbard. Photo: AAP.

A physiology professor has called out international standards to compete as a transgender athlete as unfair.

Transgender athlete Laurel Hubbard is set to compete for New Zealand at the Commonwealth Games, which has prompted some critics to question whether she should be able to compete as a female.

Hubbard has complied with International Olympic Committee (IOC) guidelines, which requires undergoing a year of hormone therapy before competing in a new gender division.

Hubbard, who’s now 40, transitioned to female in her mid-30s and now has low enough testosterone levels that meet IOC standards.

But Professor Alison Heather from Otago University told Mark Sainsbury that there not enough evidence to support IOC guidelines because not enough research on transgender athletes has been conducted thus far.

Prof Heather said that testosterone is certainly a physiological consideration but “there are also a whole lot of other physical parameters that should be considered alongside testosterone".

... They can definitely take an advantage into their female life.

“For some individuals based on their physique, they can definitely take an advantage into their female life,” she said.

The professor said transgender athletes that have transitioned to female have the biggest advantage, particularly in weightlifting and strength sports.

Males typically have bigger hearts, larger lunges, and stronger and bigger bones, explained Prof Heather. Even if a transgender athlete has lower testosterone, she argued that they will still have a bigger cardiac output and a bigger bone structure.

"They’ll still have muscle memory, which means it makes it easier for them to put that muscle back on," she told RadioLIVE. 

Prof Heather calls for a case-by-case system to determine whether a transgender athlete can fairly compete in their new division.

In defence of Hubbard 

New Zealand Olympic Committee CEO Kereyn Smith has previously countered statements suggesting Hubbard should not be allowed to compete.

"She meets all CGF, IF, NZOC and OWNZ criteria for selection and participation and is within the IOC Guidelines that have been designed to balance an individual’s right to compete while ensuring a fair field of play," she told Newshub.

Hubbard won a silver medal in the 90kg plus division at the world championships in California last year, as well as an international gold medal at an event in Melbourne.

She has previously spoken out about criticism she has received from "rivals".

"Look, I've heard that and I think it's incredibly disrespectful to the other competitors," she told Newshub.

Downhill mountain biker Kate Weatherly. Photo: Facebook.

Kiwi mountain biker Kate Weatherly switched from the male to female division this year, but has since received criticism after winning against other females.

“It’s funny, there’s almost a pressure to do worse,” she told Mark Sainsbury.

“I’m not winning every race by huge margins.”

She pointed out that Michael Phelps had a perfect body for swimming, which some could argue is a slight advantage over others.

“That’s the hard thing about sport,” she said. “Let’s face it; it’s never really a true flat playing field.”

Weatherly said that if Hubbard was winning by huge margins she would understand the concern from others.

“But if she’s within the same spectrum as the other girls than I don’t see the issue,” she said.

Listen the full interview with Proofessor Alison Heather and Kate Weatherly above.

Morning Talk with Mark Sainsbury, 9am - 12pm Weekdays and streaming live on 'rova' channel 9 - available on Android and iPhone.