THE Tokyo Olympics will be notable for many reasons, but  it is the likely participation of Laurel Hubbard that will be one of the most contentious issues.

After a change to the rules for qualification due to the pandemic, the weightlifter from New Zealand looks almost certain to become the first transgender athlete to compete at an Olympic Games.

The 43-year-old is yet to be selected, but the New Zealand Olympic Committee said last week that Hubbard was “very likely” to be allocated an international federation quota spot for Tokyo 2020.

The trans issue within sport has long been bubbling under and is hugely polarising. What makes this so difficult is there is no black and white, it is almost entirely a grey area.

There has long been talk about what the impact of allowing trans women to compete in female sports will be and whether it will be a positive or a negative development, and no one has come up with a satisfactory answer.

Some argue that trans people who were born male but have transitioned to female should be permitted to compete in women’s sport as anything less would be discriminatory. 

There are others who believe that such a move threatens the entire future of women’s sport.

The fact no trans woman has, until now, been close to competing at the highest level of sport has allowed the debate to be pushed aside.

But not anymore. With Hubbard set to make history in Tokyo in just a few months, we could potentially see the first trans Olympic champion.

The question is, is that fair? Is it fair to the women Hubbard will be competing against and is it fair to the entire ethos of women’s sport?

There is no solution to this issue that will meet universal agreement. But some kind of answer is needed so everyone knows where they stand.

Hubbard’s participation has already caused significant controversy within the sporting world. She transitioned in 2015, two years before winning silver at the World Weightlifting Championships.

The following year, Australia’s weightlifting federation complained about her participation at the 2018 Commonwealth Games, but organisers rejected the move to prevent her competing. However, in the end she was forced to withdraw due to an elbow injury. 

This issue should not be made personal to Hubbard as this situation is likely to arise repeatedly in the coming years.

Currently, under IOC rules, trans women have the right to participate in Olympic sports providing they have declared that they identify as a woman and that their blood testosterone level is below a certain mark.

For many, however, this is not enough.

The likes of former tennis great Martina Navratilova and former marathon world champion Paula Radcliffe have voiced their concerns about allowing trans women into women’s sport, with one of their main arguments being that it is theoretically possible for a cisgender man to “decide” to become a woman, take hormones, win and earn money while competing as a female, then go back to living as a man.

But sprint cyclist Rachel McKinnon, who won a masters world title in 2018, says a key part of the argument is that supporters of banning trans women want to stop “innocent” and “real” transgender athletes from competing in women’s sports “because a cis man, in theory but not practice, could commit fraud” by gaming the system.

“We should never deny people’s rights because a select few, in theory, could commit fraud,” the American says.

Certainly, I find it hard to believe that women’s sport is on the verge of being over-run by trans women. The proportion of trans women globally remains tiny and since 2003, when the IOC initially brought in regulations allowing trans women to compete in the Olympic Games, more than 50,000 athletes have participated and not one has been openly transgender.

But this debate is not going to go away.

I, like many looking at the issue from the outside, have mixed feelings. It is hard to shake the sense that there is something unfair about allowing athletes born male to compete against those born female. The natural physical advantages a man has over a woman make it hard to argue it is a level playing field.

Last week, Caitlyn Jenner, who came out as transgender in 2015, was asked about school sports and said that trans athletes who were born male should not be allowed to compete in girls’ sports teams.

The former Olympic decathlon champion and reality star said: “This is a question of fairness. That’s why I oppose biological boys who are trans competing in girls’ sports in school.  It just isn’t fair, and we have to protect girls’ sports in our schools.”

However, I am also uncomfortable with discriminating against a group of people who already have to deal with plenty of intolerance within society.

In almost every walk of life, people should be allowed to identify how they like. But the physical element of sport does make this particular issue much trickier.

If Hubbard, as expected, makes her Olympic debut in Tokyo, the conversation is likely to get heated. She will almost certainly be on the receiving end of considerable abuse, which is clearly not fair. But we must also be mindful of making sure things are fair for every other woman in the field.