Steph's Place

In Search of Sporting Glory

by Co-Editor Paul

As we celebrate the start of another Olympic Games, currently available on the BBC iPlayer you can enjoy watching ‘Gold Rush: Our Race to Olympic Glory’ – this three part ‘sporting revelation’ documentary plots the incredible quest for British Olympic Medal Glory culminating in the 2012 London Olympics.

The story opens 16 years earlier with the abject failure of the British Olympic team at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics - GB managed a total of just 15 medals, including the one solitary Gold, and resulted in finishing in 36th place in the final Medal Table. For such a proud sporting nation it was a dismal performance and clearly action was needed if this was to change.

It was acknowledged that whilst other successful sporting nations were ensuring their athletes received the highest assistance by utilising the best coaches, physiologists, phycologists, nutritionists and the latest scientific technology, British Olympic participation remained predominantly amateur with most of our top athletes still holding down full time jobs and fitting in their training out of working hours, and also relying on assistance and guidance from volunteer Coaches. As stated in Part 1 of the documentary by Leon Taylor (GB Diver), there was recognition that  “It simply wasn’t a level playing field and something needed to change or we would keep sliding” – so how could a change be effected? The decision was Money. There is nothing you can do to change the size of your population, so there are Countries that will always have a far greater pool of resources to pick from, but serious financial investment into those that are available could make a massive difference to those athletes.  

With The National Lottery already raising money for ‘Good Causes’ and Sport being deemed worthy of such recognition, Britain began funding athletes in an attempt to see what could be achieved in the following four years. £60m was ploughed into British Sport, with the likes of Chris Hoy receiving the funding that enabled him to concentrate on his cycling career. The result; GB effectively doubled their Medals total to 28 Medals and climbed up to 10th in the Medal Table. It had worked – they had proved that money can make a difference and the level of investment grew and grew.

So now fast forward to Beijing in 2008 where Team GB achieved an outstanding 51 Medals and now sat proudly at 4th in the final Medal Table – only the big 3 Sporting Superpowers of China, USA and Russia finished higher and with their far higher populations and therefore resources, there was no realistic way to break into that top 4 – or was there? The 2012 Olympics were to be held in London and over the next 4 years an unbelievable investment of £9.4 billion was spent to put this to the test.

After a slow start, it was on the 5th day of the Games that GB won its first Gold Medal from rowers Helen Glover and Heather Stanning, and from that moment onwards there was no stopping us – the Gold Medal performances kept on coming including Chris Hoy, Victoria Pendalton, Andy Murray, and who can forget ‘Super Saturday’ with the triple Gold Medal performances from Jessica Ennis, Greg Rutherford and Mo Farah – what a memorable night that truly was.

At the start of the Games, GB Sport had set an ambitious target of 65 Medals, and on Day 16, the final day of the Games, GB won its final 3 Medals, including Gold for boxer Anthony Joshua, and that ambitious total of 65 had been achieved – and by doing so, 3rd Place in the Medal Table had also been secured.

It was a remarkable achievement that was celebrated throughout Great Britain and will rightly be remembered as one of the greatest sporting turnarounds and achievements that this Country has ever witnessed. The foundation had been laid and a blueprint for success had been established and proven to work – four years later at the 2016 Rio de Janeiro Olympics, Team GB went even further by winning 67 Medals and climbing to 2nd in the Medal Table, only topped by USA.

So with the correct level of focus and with the required levels of investment, we have seen exactly what can be achieved. The BBC documentary covering this spectacular rise to glory is full of tales and experiences of sporting heroes who will forever be remembered and revered – many have become household names and have been honoured with knighthoods and damehoods. They are all Sporting Heroes.

This was clearly a wonderful tale of sporting ‘rags to riches’, but I now come to the true purpose for my recounting this sporting story of ‘zero to hero’:

This draws from a quote delivered in Episode 3 of the BBC ‘Gold Rush’ Documentary by Sports Journalist Paul Hayward who said:

There are two ways for a Country to sweep the board at the Olympic Games – one is through performance enhancing drugs, and the other is to throw so much money at it that the other Countries can’t compete with you

The first option of doping is clearly illegal and against all ethical sporting rules, however the second financial investment option is totally acceptable and breaks absolutely no rules.

As Paul goes on to say “The term ‘Financial Doping’ is short for buying success – the idea is you buy yourself critical advantages in all the decisive areas and you end up in the top 3 in the Medal Table

So £9.4 Billion ‘bought us critical advantages’ that meant competitors from other Countries simply couldn’t compete with our Athletes - what did we buy? We bought an Unfair Advantage. An Unfair Advantage that increased our medal tally from 15 to 65 over just four Olympic Games. And yet it was an Unfair Advantage that resulted in no public or media complaints – no calls for the funding to stop because it was ‘unfair' on other Countries that couldn’t commit to such high investment. Yes there were calls before the London Games that the £9.4 billion was disgraceful and unethical, but not for sporting fairness reasons. There were calls that Hospitals, Education or Social Welfare were far more ethical places for that level of funding to be spent, but never a mention that it was wrong because we were being unfair to other competitors.

Remember that earlier quote from GB diver Leon Taylor after Atlanta “It simply wasn’t a level playing field and something needed to change or we would keep sliding” – well something had changed – we had completely reversed the position. We didn’t rebalance to create a level playing field, we had completely reversed it so the un-level playing field was now in our favour.

In 1996 GB had suffered from an un-level playing field imposed by others, but by 2012 GB now imposed that un-level playing field on others - yet no one complained.

Now please don’t get me wrong – I’m not saying this is something we shouldn’t have done as I have already stated that unlike performance enhancing drugs there is nothing illegal about this and there is nothing wrong in striving to achieve sporting excellence. My point is that even in the most extreme of circumstances as clearly witnessed and celebrated in the documentary, there is never any public outcry when a ‘level playing field’ in sport is intentionally created and exploited. And yet here we are at the 2020 Tokyo Olympic Games and the inclusion of the one solitary Transgender Women competitor has the world in a head spin.

And please can we once and for all understand the differences between Laurel Hubbard (and any other Elite Transgender Athlete) and the action of GB Sports – Transgender Women are born that way, they didn’t choose, it’s who they are, and even IF they have any advantage, it is natural and not intentionally manufactured.

So whilst GB Sports openly set out to intentionally create an unfair advantage to win Medals, in order to compete in Elite Sport Trans Women choose to undergo treatment to lower their testosterone levels to remove any unfair advantage to compete on a level playing field

By creating an unfair advantage and winning 65 Medals at London, 50 more than at Atlanta, does this equate to 50 athletes that were denied an opportunity and ‘robbed of Medals’? By taking 15 as the base level set at Atlanta, over the next 4 Olympics Games this equated to ‘buying’ a massive 153 additional Medal winners. So has this resulted in cries of foul play and anger for the 153 athletes that were ‘robbed of their Medals’? No, not even a murmur.

The fact is they haven’t ‘stolen’ anyone’s Medals because they achieved their success within the rules. Over exactly the same period of 4 Olympic Games not one Transgender competitor managed to qualify, and now we finally have Laurel Hubbard, who is the first ever Transgender Women qualifier. Laurel may not even win a Medal, but she also qualifies within the rules and yet the outcry and having to justify her inclusion has been nothing short of disgraceful.

So I ask again, why is it that the actions of Transgender competitors to compete fairly (by reducing T Levels) is being condemned, whilst the calculated action of ‘Financial Doping’ to intentionally gain an unfair advantage is still celebrated? The bottom line is that ALL sporting success achieved within the governing rules should be applauded and celebrated. Just like every GB Medal Winner, Laurel’s success will ultimately be down to all the hard work and dedication and effort to reach the panicle of her sport.

The bad news for those amongst us that hold beliefs that Transgender Women should not be included within Women’s Sport purely for outdated biological reasons, is that the IOC (International Olympic Committee) no longer entertain these views. Transgender Olympic participation has been permitted within IOC rules since 2003 and over the years there have been various modifications as to the entry level requirements. Following the conclusion of the Tokyo Games, the IOC will continue their latest Policy review that will reaffirm the basic principle that sporting competition is a human right for all, so providing rules that enable inclusion for everyone to compete in line with their true gender identity, whilst also ensuring safety for all.

So Laurel will be the first Transgender Women to participate, but she will not be the last. Contrary to those who have made false claims for several years, there will be no explosion of Trans competitors ‘dominating Women’s Sport’ – The one solitary Transgender qualifier in 9 Summer and Winter Olympics is surely proof this simply isn’t happening and the reason is the clear loss of male puberty advantages as a direct result of the treatment they undergo to achieve the IOC qualification requirements of reducing their Testosterone levels. The IOC understand this. There are studies currently underway involving Transgender athletes recording their sporting abilities as they undergo their transition period and this is providing the vital data that will help form the new IOC Policy.

The truth is that Transgender Athletes are not seeking to benefit from any unfair advantage. They just want to be accepted for who they truly are and permitted to live their lives accordingly. Trans Women that have been born with a natural sporting talent simply want to compete as their true selves, so unlike Team GB they are not looking to create unfair advantages to win. As long as their health is not put at risk they have no issue in meeting the IOC qualification requirements and this week Laurel Hubbard will compete fairly having done so.

And as for Laurel’s chances, well these are best summed up by a betting odds website Olympic betting odds:

Despite what many think, Hubbard is not a likely winner of the competition. In her category, she is far behind the elite athletes at the top, such as Li Wenwen, the most likely winner. In fact, her total lifts are more than 30kg behind Li Wenwen, and significantly behind other top competitors such as Tatiana Kashirina. The fact that Hubbard was assigned male at birth seems to not be much of an advantage. In fact, her odds are likely inflated due to the public assuming that she will win because of this. She’s probably not going to win this event, and that means bettors can get better odds on Li Wenwen, with so much attention focused on Hubbard.” 

If Laurel does win a Medal on Monday it will be because she deserves to and the headlines should be loud and proud celebrating her achievements…. but for now I fear that the headlines for Laurel will be anything but complimentary. The total irony is that she will be unjustly accused of having an unfair advantage and viewed in nothing like the same terms as any newly crowned GB sporting heroes that we unvail over the next two week, who unlike Laurel, will have actually benefited from having an unfair advantage.  

The constant display of discrimination and targeting of Trans Women in sport simply has to stopLaurel Hubbard is making Sporting History and having qualified fairly her participation should not be controversial - it should be celebrated. 

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