More than 80 academics in sports and public health have signed a letter to World Rugby critical of its proposed participation ban for transgender women in their sport, and the methodologies used to build it.

World Rugby’s July announcement of its draft proposal has sparked a great deal of opinion on both sides. While opponents of trans inclusion in sport have cheered the proposal, rugby players around the world, from the recreational to the elite levels, have spoken out in opposition. A worldwide petition against the proposal has drawn over 17,000 signatures.

Canadian ruggers have now joined the opposition to the proposed transban:

“Rugby Canada has made clear that the draft guidelines, as currently presented, are not policy that can or will be adopted should they move forward. Rugby participation in Canada will continue to be guided by the existing Trans Inclusion Policy and the Canadian Charter of Rights & Freedoms.”

“I think what’s happening is a blatantly discriminatory policy that is being masked under the guise of safety,” Prof. Noah Riseman, author of the letter to World Rugby, told Outsports. Like trans athlete and researcher Joanna Harper, Riseman said the science used by the organization is faulty. “It’s not been peer reviewed, it’s speculative. We thought if World Rugby is supposedly using science, supposedly using expertise, to underpin this policy, then academics who do actually work in this area need to come together and say, this is not a good application of science.”

Professor Noah Riseman of Australian Catholic University penned the letter critical of World Rugby’s proposal. He is also working on a project on the history of Australia’s transgender community

Riseman, who specializes in the experiences of marginalized social groups at Australian Catholic University, took World Rugby’s 38-page position paper and its claims to task in his letter. World Rugby’s contentions, such as the cited “20-30% greater risk” of injury if a cisgender woman is tackled by a transgender woman, have been criticized for being “based on unpublished, non-peer reviewed research — one study in particular which was not conducted with trans athletes — and predictive modelling.”

“To develop appropriate guidelines requires ongoing work with transgender athletes and community representatives, and engagement with rigorous, peer-reviewed evidence,” Riseman’s letter explained. “These guidelines fail on both accounts.”

“We urge World Rugby and its Member Unions to consult with relevant stakeholders to devise new guidelines that are inclusive, comply with anti-discrimination laws, and based on peer-reviewed evidence from research with transgender athletes.”

EDITOR’S NOTE: Riseman also wrote an op-ed in The Conversation, telling World Rugby its ban is wrong and that inclusion is possible. Read it by clicking here.

The fact that the working group presenting evidence to World Rugby at its February forum featured not one transgender woman who plays rugby — and only one transgender participant in the sport as a whole, trans man Verity Smith — drew the pointed ire of perhaps the most well-known name among the signees.

Madeleine Pape has a Ph.D. in sociology and has done intensive research in regard to the intersections of sex, gender and sports

“It upset me when there isn’t an effort being made to make space for people, to make space and connect with the experiences of trans athletes, and that is what I see happening here,” retired Australian Olympian Madeleine Pape said. “Governing Bodies like World Rugby are failing to provide opportunities to create an environment where athletes can learn about all the different kinds of people in sports and learn why it's important for them to be a part of sport.”

Pape today holds a Ph.D. and is a postdoctoral researcher at the University of Lausanne, Switzerland, in close proximity to the headquarters of many of the world’s sporting governing bodies, including the International Olympic Committee. Much of her research as a scholar has centered around sex and gender. Much of that interest came from elite level track and field. Specializing in middle-distance races, Pape represented Australia in the 800 meters at the 2008 Beijing Olympics. She made Australia’s national team again for the World University Games in 2009, where she won the gold medal at the distance.

Before she was a Ph.D. was an Olympian at 800 meters and a World University Games gold medalist at the distance

She states that a fellow competitor inspired her to examine the issues; A woman who was just beginning her legendary, and to some infamous, domination of the 800 meter race.

“I go back to my experience racing against Caster Semenya,” Pape told Outsports, referring to the South African two-time Olympic gold medalist. “Experiencing what that environment was like in 2009, and the viciousness and the blatant disregard for her as a human being, really stayed with me.” Semenya is not transgender but her higher than average testosterone levels have led to her being banned from the race that catapulted her to fame, unless she agrees to medical intervention.

Those memories also drove Pape as a grad student and Ph.D. candidate at the University of Wisconsin. She said the rigorous course of study that including intense examination of gender theory, and developing social relationships with gender-variant classmates, was a turning point.

“In my sociology program at Madison, I had a friend who is a trans woman and another friend who identifies as intersex,” she recalled. “Talking with them about this issue and how it impacts them personally really had a profound impact on me.”

“Can I, on the one hand say to my friend ‘Yes, I celebrate and accept who you are off the track, but on the track we have a different set of rules’,Pape continued. “Can I adhere to that double standard? The answer is I can’t, so I need to find another way to make sport a place where they can belong just as much as I belong.”

Transgender rugby standout Caroline Layt criticized World Rugby’s lack of trans representation in their working group. She says the growing support against a proposed ban is helping the larger effort for trans rights

Outsports asked a prominent trans athlete, former Australian rugby union standout Caroline Layt, to comment on Riseman’s letter. She noted the number of allies for trans rights is growing despite attempts by some to stop the momentum. “We’re no longer invisible, we have a voice and we’re not going away anytime soon,” Layt told Outsports. “This is inspiring many cisgender women rugby players, from top-notch international players to grass roots, to advocate for us, and this is really inspiring us to fight the anti-trans sentiment that’s been expressed by the uneducated on transgender issues.”

At Outsports’ request, Riseman contacted all 84 signees, seeking permission to publish their names in this article. We received 80 responses: 78 saying they were proud to have their names known; two said they did not want their names published, but expressed continued support for what the letter stated. Outsports is honoring their request, given the potential they might experience negative ramifications for coming forward. Four others did not respond as of press time, and so their names are not published here.

Scroll down to read the names and affiliations of 78 of the signees, or click on the link below to read the full letter with those 78 names. Note that they told us they signed the letter of their own accord, and their signatures do not necessarily reflect the views of their universities or departments.

World Rugby letter re transgender guidelines UPDATED.pdf

  • Prof. Noah Riseman School of Arts (History) Australian Catholic University
  • Dr Audrey Giles School of Human Kinetics University of Ottawa
  • Dr. Kirsty Clark Yale School of Public Health Yale University
  • Prof George B. Cunningham Health and Kinesiology Texas A&M University
  • Dr Sae-Mi Lee School of Kinesiology, Nutrition and Food Sciences California State University, Los Angeles
  • Dr Madeleine Pape Institute of Sports Sciences University of Lausanne
  • Dr Janelle Joseph Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education University of Toronto
  • Prof Richard Pringle Faculty of Education (Sport, Exercise, Physical Education) Monash University
  • Prof Holly Thorpe School of Health University of Waikato
  • Dr Paul Whitinui School of Exercise Science, Health and Physical Education University of Victoria, Canada
  • Dr Debra Kriger Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education University of Toronto
  • Prof Bruce Kidd Faculty of Kinesiology and Physical Education University of Toronto
  • Dr Mary Louise Adams School of Kinesiology and Health Studies Queen’s University
  • Dr R. Dawn Comstock Department of Epidemiology Colorado School of Public Health
  • Prof Daryl Higgins Institute of Child Protection Studies Australian Catholic University
  • Dr Ryan Storr School of Health Sciences (Sport Development) Western Sydney University
  • Dr William Bridel Faculty of Kinesiology University of Calgary
  • Dr Christopher PepinNeff School of Social and Political Sciences University of Sydney
  • Dr Yves Rees Department of Archaeology and History La Trobe University
  • Dr Satoko Itani Faculty of Letters Kansai University
  • Associate Professor Daryl Adair UTS Business School University of Technology Sydney
  • Dr Cheryl A. MacDonald Centre for the Study of Sport & Health Saint Mary’s University
  • Dr Joel Anderson Australian Research Centre in Sex, Health and Society La Trobe University
  • Prof Joe Recupero Sport Media, RTA School of Media Ryerson University
  • Dr Pam Kappelides Sport Management La Trobe University
  • Prof Daniel Mann Department of Social Sciences Queensborough Community College, The City University of New York
  • Dr Rachel Allison Department of Sociology Mississippi State University Associate
  • Professor Roslyn Kerr Faculty of Environment, Society and Design Lincoln University, New Zealand
  • Dr Danielle Peers Faculty of Kinesiology, Sport, and Recreation University of Alberta
  • Dr Rebecca Olive School of Human Movement & Nutrition Sciences The University of Queensland Associate
  • Professor Ruth Jeanes Faculty of Education (Sport, Exercise, Physical Education) Monash University
  • Dr Kyle Kusz English/Gender & Women’s Studies University of Rhode Island
  • Anna Posbergh Department of Kinesiology University of Maryland
  • Prof Greg Ryan Faculty of Environment, Society & Design Lincoln University, New Zealand
  • Dr Dillon Landi College of Health Professions Towson University (USA)
  • Prof Kathryn Henne School of Regulation and Global Governance Australian National University
  • Dr Lefteris Patlamazoglou Faculty of Education (Psychology and Counselling) Monash University
  • Dr Emma Vickers School of Humanities and Social Sciences Liverpool John Moores University
  • Hon Associate Prof Shirleene Robinson Department of Modern History Macquarie University
  • Dr Victoria Paraschak Department of Kinesiology University of Windsor
  • Eva Bosnjak Faculty of Kinesiology University of Calgary
  • Dr Adam Ali Faculty of Kinesiology and Health Studies University of Toronto
  • Dr Alexa Dodge Department of Political Science Dalhousie University
  • Madison Danford School of Kinesiology and Health Studies Queen’s University, Canada
  • Dr Matthew Klugman Institute for Health & Sport Victoria University, Australia
  • Taryn Hepburn Department of Law and Legal Studies Carleton University
  • Dr Jeffrey Montez de Oca Department of Sociology University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
  • Prof Claire Williams Kinesiology Saint Mary’s College of California
  • Erik Denison Behavioural Sciences Laboratory Monash University
  • Dr Hannah Bennett Department of Kinesiology Augusta University
  • Dr Adam Love Kinesiology, Recreation, & Sport Studies University of Tennessee
  • Dr Nicholas M. Watanabe Department of Sport and Entertainment Management University of South Carolina
  • Joanna Line American Culture Studies Bowling Green State University
  • Prof Jay Coakley Sociology University of Colorado, Colorado Springs
  • Dr Lauren S. Morimoto Kinesiology Sonoma State University
  • Emma Calow American Culture Studies Bowling Green State University
  • Dr Erin Morris Department of Sport Management State University of New York at Cortland
  • Dr Sarah K. Fields Department of Communication University of Colorado Denver
  • Abigail Curlew Department of Sociology and Anthropology Carleton University
  • Prof Cathy van Ingen Department of Kinesiology Brock University
  • Dr Anima Adjepong Independent Researcher
  • Dr Kristopher Wells Faculty of Health and Community Studies MacEwan University
  • Dr Lindsay Parks Pieer Sport Management University of Lynchburg
  • Dr Brian Gearity Graduate School of Professional Psychology University of Denver
  • Bridgette Desjardins Department of Law & Legal Studies Carleton University
  • Dr Parissa Safai School of Kinesiology and Health Science York University
  • Dr Veena Mani Department of English University of Madras
  • Simon Barrick Experiential Studies in Community and Sport Cape Breton University
  • Dr Matthew R. Hodler Harrington School of Communication & Media University of Rhode Island
  • Dr Nida Ahmad Independent researcher
  • Dr Jason Laurendeau Department of Sociology University of Lethbridge
  • Dr Andy Kaladelfos School of Social Sciences University of New South Wales (UNSW)
  • Dr Karen Lambert Faculty of Education (Sport, Exercise, Physical Education) Monash University
  • Dr Quinn Eades Department of Politics, Media, and Philosophy La Trobe University
  • Associate Professor Lucy Nicholas Sociology Western Sydney University
  • Prof Shaun Edmonds Kinesiology Augustana College
  • Dr Kelly-Ann Allen Faculty of Education (Early Childhood Education) Monash University
  • Dr Michelle K. Donnelly Department of Sport Management Brock University

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