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World Rugby sidesteps scrum and issues new ‘transgender guidelines’ that recommend a ban

Although a vote on a potential ban was promised for next month, World Rugby updated its guidelines Friday, claiming “a balance between safety, fairness and inclusion could not be provided.”

World Rugby officials on Friday showed everyone they are chickenshit, and would rather discard transparency in the face of controversy.

They’re a bunch of cowards, unwilling to keep their word, something which might result in a public humiliation if their transphobic plan were to be vetoed.

And as many have said, they long ago made up their minds on whether transgender women should play rugby with cisgender women.

A tweet Friday morning announced that the executive committee of the organization, without a vote that was promised for next month, and without a single shred of scientific data on actual trans women rugby players, had issued new “transgender participation guidelines.”

Not a ban, per se, but a recommendation, that trans women not be permitted to play “women’s contact rugby... at elite and international level” events.

“It was concluded that safety and fairness cannot presently be assured for women competing against transwomen [sic] in contact rugby.

“As a result, the new guidelines do not recommend that transwomen play women’s contact rugby on safety grounds at the elite and international level of the game where size, strength, power and speed are crucial for both risk and performance...”

So, in other words, a ban.

The NCLR, aka the National Center for Lesbian Rights — a national non-profit law organization that fights for LGBTQ rights — issued a statement late Friday, minutes after this story was first published, condemning the guidelines as “cruel and blatantly discriminatory.” NCLR’s executive director vowed to fight the guidelines.

“This is pure bigotry. There is no justification for reversing the current inclusive policy, which has been in place for nearly two decades.

“Shockingly, World Rugby adopted this ban without considering input from member nations, as they had promised to do, and despite opposition by women’s rugby players across the globe. This ban perpetuates the same false stereotypes that have long been used to demean all women athletes and that have been particularly harmful to women of color. As a legal organization, NCLR pledges to do all we can to challenge this egregious violation of human rights.” — NCLR Executive Director Imani Rupert-Gordon.

There are two loopholes in their new guidelines:

First: Trans men can play contact rugby without restrictions.

Second, and perhaps in response to USA Rugby and other clubs around the world announcing they would not abide by any ban, and a letter signed by 84 scientists from all over the globe, objecting to the World Rugby proposal: “Unions will be able to exercise flexibility on a case-by-case basis at the community level of the game, for which the unions are responsible, while World Rugby will continue to prioritise inclusion strategies to ensure that the trans community remain an active, welcome and important member of the rugby family,” said Dr Araba Chintoh who chaired what WR called the “comprehensive and inclusive process” of determining that trans women posed a risk to cisgender female competitors.

They did so, however, without testimony from a single trans woman rugby player. They heard from a trans man, Verity Smith — who was permitted to ask a question, and used that opportunity to inquire about a Qualtrics online survey for World Rugby, which asked cisgender players: “Are you aware of, or suspect you might have played rugby with or against a Transwoman [sic]?”

Smith’s question was: “What does a trans athlete look like?”

The forum did hear from a trans woman who is both a runner and a researcher, Joanna Harper. They didn’t consult Shoshauna Gauvin, Grace McKenzie or Isabella Macbeth, all of whom are trans women playing rugby.

Also, take a look at what appears in tiny print, at the bottom of the first page of their supporting document summarizing their “Transgender Biology and Performance Research,” which mostly focuses on male rugby players and how they compare to female rugby players:

“To date, no direct studies on trans women rugby players. Evidence is drawn from studies on biological differences, effects of testosterone suppression, and known injury and performance factors.”

So without a vote, without any actual scientific data on the kind of players in question — transgender women — the World Rugby officials are relying on “science” from the likes of a British biologist whose expertise is in respiratory and urinary bladder infections, Dr. Emma Hilton, as well as podcaster Ross Tucker, Ph.D., a South African science and research consultant for World Rugby for the past five years whose degree is in exercise fatigue.

Also presenting was Tommy Lundberg, Ph.D., whose degree is in the philosophy of sports and exercise and has been a teacher and researcher at the Karolinska Institute since 2014. The research he presented, as well as Hilton’s, Harper’s, Tucker’s, and the survey results, are all posted online here.

A spokesperson for World Rugby told Outsports following publication of this story why the recommendation was issued without a vote. “The matter did not require a vote of the Council in November,” he said, “because it was an athlete welfare matter and therefore was under the auspices of the EXCO [executive committee].”

One question that isn’t really answered, is this line in World Rugby’s announcement:

“...based on the available evidence, it was concluded that a balance between safety, fairness and inclusion could not be provided for transwomen playing women’s contact rugby.”

Fairness? To whom? From the replies to Ross’s tweet, it seems fairness applies only to cisgender women and girls. The only good news, besides the fact that the proposed “ban” is now only a recommendation in some parts of the world, is that World Rugby has promised to review these guidelines annually.

Unless, of course, they break that promise, too.

Click here to read World Rugby’s announcement

Click here for the overview of guidelines issued by World Rugby

Click here to view the “Summary of Transgender Biology and Performance Research”

EDITOR’S NOTE: This story has been edited to include additional information provided by Verity Smith, Megan Gottsches, Joanna Harper, rugby writer and attorney Tim O’Connor and a spokesperson for World Rugby. The most significant changes are: what Smith was heard saying at the February forum organized by World Rugby; the addition of the survey he asked about; more information about the data presented by opponents of transgender inclusion; and the statement from the spokesperson for World Rugby explaining why no vote was taken on the recommendation.