Rugby follows suit FINA, bans transgender athletes in women's sport

Shortly after the international swimming governing body (FINA) banned transgender players from competing in high-level women’s competitions the International Rugby League (IRL) followed. On Tuesday, IRL also banned transgender players from women’s international competitions until further notice, while FIFA said it is in a consultation process over transgender participation. Earlier the International Cycling Union tightened its rules on trans participation.

The International Rugby League released a statement in which it stated that further consultations are needed before finalising its transgender policy.

Change in IRL policy

Until further research is completed to enable the IRL to implement a formal transgender inclusion policy, male-to-female (trans women) players are unable to play in sanctioned women’s international rugby league matches,” the IRL statement said.

The body added that “it is the IRL's responsibility to balance the individual's right to participate ... against perceived risk to other participants, and to ensure all are given a fair hearing.”

The IRL also said that it would work with the eight nations competing at the women's Rugby League World Cup hosted by England in November to obtain data to inform a transgender policy in 2023.

The IRL will continue to work towards developing a set of criteria, based on best possible evidence, which fairly balances the individual’s right to play with the safety of all participants,” the organisation stressed.

Praise & Pushback

Swimming: Transgender participation to be restricted in women's competition

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World Athletics head Sebastian Coe praised FINA for its stance. “My responsibility is to protect the integrity of women’s sport and we take that very seriously, and if it means that we have to make adjustments to protocols going forward, we will,” Mr Coe said.

To my mind, FINA’s approach to this was very enlightened, it was very balanced, it was informed,” FINA's Sports Medicine Committee vice-chairman David Gerrard said.

The ban, however, also drew a lot of criticism from transgender advocates. “Blanket bans on women who are trans playing against other women risks violating international human rights principles of non-discrimination, which require such policies to start from a place of inclusion,” Anna Brown, CEO of Equality Australia, pointed out.

US soccer player Megan Rapinoe was also critical of the decision. “We're (framing) everything through ‘God forbid a trans person be successful in sports’. Get a grip on reality and take a step back,” she said.

The governing body of Australia’s domestic National Rugby League (NRL) competition declined to comment on the international ban and said it was still formulating its own transgender policy.