After World Rugby, an international sport governing body, attempted to ban transgender women from playing on women’s rugby teams, an England-specific rugby league is pushing back against the guidelines.
The Rugby Football Union (RFU) has decided to go against World Rugby policy and allow trans women to play women’s rugby at all non-international levels, noting a need for more evidence before offering any kind of restriction on trans players.
“The RFU does not currently plan to adopt World Rugby transgender guidelines as it believes further scientific evidence is required alongside detailed consideration of less restrictive measures in relation to the eligibility of transgender players,” a spokesperson for the RFU told The Guardian.
The decision to continue to allow trans women comes after World Rugby implemented a ban, citing that the risk of “significant injury” was too high. The international organization claimed that scientific research indicated that those who have undergone male puberty are at a 20-30% greater risk of injury vs a player who was assigned female at birth. However, World Rugby’s data is based on only one study, the validity of which has been questioned for a small sample size and a reliance on non-athletes.
After World Rugby’s policy was released in September, over 84 academics from across disciplines criticized the rule and the study’s findings.
“We are opposed to World Rugby’s proposed ban of an entire population group from playing women’s rugby: non-binary people assumed male at birth and transgender women,” reads the letter. “There is no peer-reviewed, scientific evidence to justify a ban which would only be harmful to trans and gender diverse people.”
The RFU’s rejection of World Rugby rules means that trans women are allowed to continue playing women’s rugby in England. However, they are no longer eligible to compete in international competitions, like the Olympics or the Six Nations, due to those being governed by World Rugby’s rules. According to The Guardian, World Rugby is the first international sporting federation to issue such a restriction against trans women.
The debate over trans women in rugby comes at the same time that the conversation over transgender athletes is happening around the world. In the US, a bill was introduced by Republican senators last month that seeks to revoke federal funding from schools that allow trans women to compete in sports under their gender identity. The same bill seeks to redefine “sex” under Title IX to exclude trans people. Another anti-trans sports bill was also blocked by a federal judge in August after being passed in Idaho earlier this year.