World Rugby ban on trans women: “Some players will lose their rugby family”

For many, sports are more than just a hobby. They are a place to be a part of a team and feel valued. World Rugby’s proposed ban on trans women playing in Rugby Union is more than just a rollback on inclusivity in the game, it is a threat to trans women’s place in a community they have found. Mike Turner, Chair of Liverpool Tritons RUFC and IGR Regional Representative for England North, speaks to LCR Pride Foundation about the wider impact of the proposal.  

“In July, The Guardian leaked proposals from World Rugby which would amount to a total ban on trans women playing women’s rugby union, only a year after World Rugby introduced a more inclusive policy allowing trans players to play. 

The proposals cited research claiming that there is “at least a 20-30% greater risk” of injury when a female player is tackled by someone who has gone through male puberty. However, no test subjects in this research were trans women and no rugby research involving trans women rugby players has ever been conducted.

In light of this we are challenging how this research can be used to bring about such a dramatic volte-face. Safety is important, but since the current policy on trans players was introduced, there have been no reports of injuries caused by the involvement of trans women in rugby. 

The research cited in World Rugby’s proposals has been widely panned by scientists from all relevant disciplines and Rugby Canada, which is responsible for one of the top women’s teams in the world, USA Rugby and the German Rugby Union have all publicly rejected the proposal.

What’s more, the working party set up to discuss the research had no trans members, but did contain members of a political campaign group known for their opposition to trans women in women’s sport or any circles designated for women. 

The current World Rugby policy is in line with that of the International Olympic Committee and already restricts considerably the number of trans women who would be permitted to play women’s rugby. Indeed, many cis women would not comply with the testosterone level requirements which trans women must evidence over a year-long period before they can play. At the same time, however, a trans man can freely play rugby at any stage of their transition. 

A typical rugby union squad has players of all shapes and sizes. In the community game, twenty-stone props regularly get tackled by scrum-halves half their size – the disparity in size is what makes the sport so inclusive and the benefits of players at each point on the spectra of mass and speed are recognised and celebrated. If women are to be allowed to play alongside cis women of any size but not against any trans women whatsoever, one has to question whether safety is truly the deciding factor in the decision. 

Speaking to Verity Smith, a trans man who played rugby at national level for years and who has worked closely with England’s governing body for rugby union, the RFU, on its own trans policies, he said: “World Rugby claims in its laws that rugby is ‘a sport for all’. Why is it not sticking by it?” 

World Rugby’s proposal sends out the opposite message and the fact that it is even being made is disheartening and would be enough to put some people off considering the sport. That’s why we at the Liverpool Tritons RUFC and the global network of inclusive rugby clubs, IGR International Gay Rugby, want to make it clear that trans people can and are welcome to play rugby.

At an individual level, some players will lose their rugby family, an opportunity to be part of a team and feel valued. Many of us at the Tritons discovered the value of team sports only later in life and I can only imagine how it must feel to have that taken away.

Although they would not be forced to adopt the proposal at grassroots level, national unions would be encouraged to follow suit, which could lead to breaches of local equality laws in some countries. World Rugby technically only governs the elite game, but tournaments are held in various locations and clashes with local equality laws might mean elite tournaments could not take place in some territories. It also sets a frightening precedent, as rugby is the first major sport to have firstly introduced a more inclusive policy, only then to propose a blanket ban on all trans women.

Along with all the other IGR clubs in England, we sent a joint letter to the RFU asking them to reject the proposals and maintain their current policies. We approached local clubs with women’s teams to ensure they knew about our opposition to the proposal and point out the unfairness and lack of quality scientific research behind the proposal, and some even agreed to co-sign the letter we sent to the RFU. I have spoken to women from clubs who did not respond to our letter asking how they could support trans women players and explain the problems with the proposals to their teammates, and I’m pleased that women in rugby are talking about the issue and not only the louder, often transphobic, voices are being heard.

I really feel for the young trans people watching this situation unfold and the impact this will have on them, regardless of their interest in sport. I want them to know that we at Liverpool Tritons and IGR see them, respect them and are standing up for them.”

Five ways you can support the campaign:

  1. If you are involved in the sport, discuss the issue with your women rugby playing friends
  2. Sign and share the “Let Trans Women Play” petition here
  3. Share the stories of trans rugby players who would be affected
  4. Share articles which point out the flaws in the research
  5. Follow updates on the campaign from Liverpool Tritons and IGR

Image credit: IGR 

Related Posts

LCR Pride Foundation is a registered charity in England & Wales, no 1185167. Registered Company 11754074.