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By Ian Ransom
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Allowing transgender weightlifter Laurel Hubbard to compete in the women's competition at the Tokyo Olympics would be like letting athletes dope and may set a dangerous precedent for future Games, Samoa's weightlifting boss told Reuters.
New Zealander Hubbard, who competed against men before transitioning in 2013, is set to become the first transgender athlete to compete at the Olympics after a change to qualifying requirements.
Tuaopepe Jerry Wallwork coaches Samoa's Commonwealth Games champion Feagaiga Stowers and is concerned Hubbard's presence in the super-heavyweight division at Tokyo could deny the small island nation its second Olympic medal.
"Women have to have a level playing field because I still think that this is almost similar, almost like a case of someone else taking drugs, taking doping and there's an unfair playing field there," the Samoa Weightlifting Federation President told Reuters from his office in Apia.
"It is an issue and a very sensitive issue that needs to be addressed.
"And I think all the women should stand up and address it ... and take a strong case to the IOC (International Olympic Committee) and try to turn this around."
The NZ Olympic Committee has yet to select its weightlifters but has said that Hubbard competing in Tokyo would be within International Weightlifting Federation rules.
A spokeswoman for Hubbard declined to comment on the issue.
Hubbard has been eligible to compete in the Olympics since 2015 when the IOC issued guidelines allowing transgender athletes to compete as women provided their testosterone levels are below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months before their first competition and remain under the threshold while competing.
Some scientists have said those guidelines do little to mitigate the biological advantages of those who have gone through puberty as males, including bone and muscle density.
Advocates for transgender inclusion argue the process of transition decreases that advantage considerably and that physical differences between athletes mean there is never a truly level playing field.
NO ILL WILL
Wallwork was a vocal opponent of Hubbard's participation at the 2018 Commonwealth Games in Australia, where she was leading the competition before sustaining an injury she thought had ended her career.
Hubbard had said those Games were "a model for what sport can, and should, be.
"Without any doubt, they have lived up to the mantra of humanity, equality and decency."
At the Pacific Games in Samoa in 2019, Hubbard triggered outrage in the host nation when she topped the podium twice ahead of local hero Stowers.
Wallwork said he bore Hubbard no ill will and only wants to highlight "unfairness" in the IOC's guidelines.
He was also worried about the precedent Hubbard's Olympic selection might set.
"My main concern is contact sports like boxing, like wrestling ... What would happen if someone gets punched and killed?" he said.
"There's a difference in strength and a difference in bone mass and muscle so, yeah, that's a major concern."
The IOC has said it is committed to inclusion regardless of gender identity and sexual characteristics but is also updating its guidelines.
Wallwork felt the answer was simple: give transgender athletes their own category of competition.
"As a coach, you know ... someone who has been lifting as a man before for many, many years, the strength is still there, the muscles," he said.
"Whatever you change, it’s still there and it’ll still be a disadvantage to women."
Wallwork said his stance had not gone over well with transgender weightlifters in his own gym but he says he will not coach a transgender athlete to compete in a women's competition.
"So I will not coach (them) unless they’re competing in the men’s division or unless IOC decides to open up a new category to have them," he added.
Wallwork coached Samoa's only Olympic medallist Ele Opeloge to weightlifting silver at the 2008 Beijing Games.
Doping robbed Opeloge and Samoa of the podium moment, however, with the medal only awarded eight years later after a re-analysis of drug test samples disqualified the bronze and silver medallists.
As Samoa battles a political crisis and economic hardship brought by the COVID-19 pandemic, Wallwork hoped the 20-year-old Stowers could win an Olympic medal to buoy the country.
"We seem to struggle in this part of the world, we don’t need any more added to that unfairness," he said.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Nick Mulvenney/Peter Rutherford)