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World Rugby considers ban on transgender women athletes

Governing body report claims “greater risk” due to safety concerns.

France v USA - Women’s Rugby World Cup 2017, Bronze Final Photo By Oliver McVeigh/Sportsfile via Getty Images

The world’s governing body for rugby union reportedly is considering a policy change that would make it the first international governing body to ban transgender women athletes from competition.

According to The Guardian, World Rugby has produced a 38-page document from its transgender working group, which has been working on policy recommendations since February 2020. Their draft report claims to cite studies that show “at least a 20-30% greater risk” of injury when a cisgender female player is tackled by someone who has gone through male puberty.

“Current policies regulating the inclusion of transgender women in sport are based on the premise that reducing testosterone to levels found in biological females is sufficient to remove many of the biologically-based performance advantages,” the draft report says, according to The Guardian. “However, peer-reviewed evidence suggests this is not the case.”

The current World Rugby regulations fall in line with the International Olympic Guidelines on the issue. Yet this draft report claims the IOC regulations are “not fit for purpose,” saying their data shows trans women retain “significant” physical advantages over cis women, even after they take medication to lower their testosterone.

The draft document’s recommendation on transgender men is that they be allowed to participate against cisgender men upon a physical assessment and the signing of an official consent form.

Reaction on social media has been swift, as those on both sides of the transgender inclusion debate weigh-in.

A supporter of the anti-inclusion organization, “Fair Play for Women,” acknowledged in a tweet that its founder and director, Dr. Nicola Williams, played a role in the decision. She was one of the “experts” invited to advise World Rugby officials, back in February.

An advocacy group that supports trans women athletes also spoke out on the proposed ban. Athlete Ally, in a statement to Britain’s PinkNews, backed up its pro-inclusion position first stated to World Rugby in 2017.

“Today, as World Rugby considers an outright ban on trans women athletes, we urge the World Rugby Working Group to draw from already existing inclusion policies developed by medical experts and designed to promote safety and fairness for all, such as the IOC guidelines which have been in place for years without issue,” the statement said. “Trans women play sports for the same reason cisgender women do: for the love of the game, and the love of the lifelong community it brings. No one should be denied the lifesaving power of sport.”

UPDATE: Rugby players and officials have expressed opposition to World Rugby’s proposed transgender athlete ban. Click here to read that story.