World Rugby, the governing body for the sport of rugby that organizes several international rugby competitions and comprises 120 national unions, is considering barring transgender women from playing women’s rugby.
If the ban is approved, World Rugby would be the first sports federation to implement a trans ban.
The body’s transgender working group cites research that claims there is “at least 20 to 30 percent greater risk” of injury when a cisgender female is tackled by a trans player, according to a leaked draft of the proposed ban obtained by The Guardian. The group argues that the latest science shows that trans women have “significant” physical advantages over cis women, adding that it will reconsider its decision if the scientific evidence changes.
Contrastingly, the group makes no argument against trans men competing with cisgender men as long as the player undergoes a physical exam and signs a consent form.
As it stands, trans women are allowed to play women’s rugby but only if they meet certain guidelines that were first put in place in 2003, which state that a player had to have full gender affirmation surgery, testosterone levels had to be under a certain level for two years, and they had to be identifying as female for at least four years.
But those guidelines were updated in 2015 and have created more controversy among anti-trans groups, said Louisa Wall, a New Zealand Parliament member and former rugby union member as a player for the Black Ferns,.
“In 2015, they changed [the guidelines] and said transgender women no longer had to have full gender affirmation surgery and the testosterone levels under 10 nanomoles per litre. They could have that for only a year,” Wall told Te Ao Māori News.
“We need to allow trans women to be seen as women and then to participate fully in society as women," Wall continued. “I do agree that there is a difference between male athletes and female athletes. We don’t want male athletes and females athletes competing against each other, but what we do want is trans people being able to participate in the highest levels of our society, and I also want to highlight there are no restrictions on trans men competing as men.”
Since the draft was leaked, rugby players have since spoken out.
According to Australian rugby union and rugby league athlete Caroline Layt, World Rugby never consulted trans women while crafting the draft proposal.
“It just goes to show the steps the patriarchy has taken to exclude any current or former trans rugby playing women in their working group,” Layt, a former player who transitioned in 1995 and now works as a sports journalist, told Outsports. “They’re happy for us to be injured playing against cisgender men and the same for trans men playing against cis men, so you know whose welfare is important in all of this. It’s not us trans people, as we’re once again collateral damage and our lives don’t matter.”
In February, World Rugby sponsored a forum that had representatives from the U.K.-based organization Fair Play for Women, which has been considered an “anti-trans” group. At the same forum, International Gay Rugby, an umbrella organization for the world’s gay and inclusive rugby clubs, had two participants. The proposal grew out of that forum, according to Outsports, but the gay group has spoken out against exclusion of trans women.
“It’s very surprising to see the restrictive turn that this review of the guidelines has taken, especially with the lack of research that has been conducted,” International Gay Rugby Chair Karl Ainscough-Gates said in response to the proposed draft on his group's website. “Rugby has always been a sporting role model for diversity and inclusion. We will be working with World Rugby to uphold those commitments and ensure that rugby remains a welcoming and open environment to transgender athletes. To anyone transgender or nonbinary who is doubting whether rugby is a sport for them after reading these reports, our message is very clear: Come and play rugby with us! You will always be welcome in IGR.”
Meanwhile, activists and rugby teams across the world have taken to Twitter to voice their support for trans women players. See some below: