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USA Rugby stands against proposed World Rugby trans ban

Feedback from players and club pointed USA Rugby to uphold pro-inclusion stance.

Grace McKenzie
Grace McKenzie (in green) started a worldwide petition against World Rugby’s ban. It was one of the pieces of feedback that got USA Rugby’s attention, and perhaps sparked USA Rugby’s stand against a proposed ban on transgender participation in rugby union competition
Grace McKenzie

World Rugby’s proposed ban on participation by transgender women athletes in the sport has sparked discussion and debate worldwide. In the last month, however, two of the biggest statements opposing the proposal have come from North America. On September 3, Rugby Canada announced its opposition to the World Rugby proposal.

Officials for the governing body cited an intensive feedback process, which included trans athletes in conjunction with its current policy and the Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms.

On September 25, USA Rugby came to a similar conclusion, announcing that in its response to World Rugby that it will uphold current USA Rugby policy, which allows for full participation at all levels of the sport.

Since the leaders of World Rugby first put forth their proposal in July, USA Rugby had called for feedback from its member clubs, participants and officials. The response for inclusion immediately grew from American soil.

Within days of World Rugby’s proposal going public, the recruiting coordinator for San Francisco-based Golden Gate RFC, Grace McKenzie, started an online petition that currently has over 18,000 signatures worldwide. In an appearance on the Outsports podcast The Trans Sporter Room last month, McKenzie noted that the grassroots rugby community are seeing the issues beyond the playing field. “It reaffirms that fact that this is a political motivated action that’s happening at highest levels of the game and doesn’t reflect the makeup of the grassroots community in rugby,” she said.

Being a trans woman who also plays on her rugby club’s rookie squad, McKenzie would be directly affected by a ban. A sizeable group of ally voices rang in with an Instagram salvo in August. A cross-section of American rugby, from the rec league players to the nation’s elite stars and coaches, put together a four-minute video calling for World Rugby officials to reconsider their position.

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USA Eagles standout and 2021 Women’s World Cup hopeful Alev Kelter (in white) was among the those who took a public stand in a video in opposition to the World Rugby proposal
Photo by Christopher Pike/Getty Images
Isabella Macbeth said playing the game for her team in South Carolina helped her through her transition
photo provided

The working group assembled by World Rugby to present its arguments on the issue had only two transgender people within its ranks. Transgender women who play the sport, like South Carolinian Isabella Macbeth — who was profiled by Outsports in August — were ignored by World Rugby, but were heard in the USA Rugby feedback process. “Saying, ‘trans people are not allowed,’ is basically saying, ‘rugby is for everyone, but you’re not human, so you’re not everybody,’” she told Outsports’ Alex Reimer. “We are still all human, and there’s a place for everyone out there.”

With both American and Canadian rugby officials standing for inclusion, the hope is that rugby’s traditional powers follow suit. There has been at least one such public statement in that direction since July.

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New Zealand Rugby COO Nicki Nicol stated to RNZ that the governing body of one of the sports’ frontline nations will stand for inclusion
Photo by Anthony Au-Yeung/Getty Images

The chief operating officer of New Zealand Rugby, Nicki Nicol, stated in an interview with Radio New Zealand three days after the World Rugby proposal was announced: “The situation is quite complex, but I’m really proud that we are having conversations and owning it as part of the rugby community and we’re trying to find ways that trans athletes can be involved in our sport. That is the outcome we are trying to effect.”