In a move that highlights the ongoing debate surrounding transgender athletes in sports, Dale Shepherd, a former world record holder in weightlifting and multiple-time New Zealand’s strongest man, applied to enter the “Day of the Dead” weightlifting competition in the women’s category. Shepherd simply wrote, “I identify as a woman for this contest” on the entry form, next to the gender indication section.
However, the Global Powerlifting Committee New Zealand (GPCNZ) informed Shepherd that he was ineligible to compete in the women’s category, as he did not meet the criteria outlined in the GPCNZ rulebook. Interestingly, the rulebook section that applies to transgender athletes was not present in an archived version of the official GPCNZ website from March 30 of this year. Despite using the previous version of the rulebook to apply, Shepherd was denied entry.
The email response to Shepherd’s application stated that a male-to-female (MTF) athlete must undergo hormone therapy for at least one year before competing in the women’s division. This statement, however, does not necessarily conform to the GPCNZ rulebook’s stated rules. The rules mandate that a biological male must declare their gender as female and have undergone hormone treatment for at least 12 months before the contest. Additionally, the rules contain a bullet point stating that transgender people not taking hormones due to medical contraindications or other reasons will undergo a “complete confidential review.”
Shepherd’s case brings attention to the subjectivity and potential for discrimination in the rules surrounding biological males competing against females in sanctioned weightlifting competitions. He highlighted these concerns in his email reply, questioning the legality of requiring only one class of athlete to provide medical records for hormone replacement therapy confirmation.
According to a GPCNZ spokesperson, no transgender athletes have ever participated in their competitions, and this has not been an issue before. However, a similar incident occurred when head Canadian powerlifting coach Avi Silverberg entered the Heroes Classic Powerlifting Meet held in Lethbridge, Alberta, in the women’s category. Silverberg not only won the meet but set a new Alberta female record by bench pressing 370 pounds.
The “Day of the Deads” event organizer, Mike MacKay, noted a recent significant increase in female participation in strength events like his. However, with women now competing against biological males, it remains to be seen how long this uptick will continue.