By Eric Carlyle
Update: Since this article was originally published World Rugby has officially banned trans woman from playing elite women’s rugby.
Just over 14 years ago Compete Sports Diversity came to life after I participated in rugby’s Bingham Cup, an international LGBTQ+ tournament held every two years. Because of its lack of traditional media coverage, my cofounder and I began to build a magazine to celebrate sports diversity – Compete Magazine. And in 2012 Compete partnered with World Rugby Champion Ben Cohen, MBE to create StandUp Magazine, the world’s first anti-bullying magazine. By then, rugby was in my blood. In fact, I sign this letter each issue with “With You”—a rugby phrase used during play.
Rugby made headlines this summer when World Rugby proposed to ban transgender female athletes from playing women’s rugby. The proposed ban affects only trans women (trans men will be allowed to play men’s rugby) and applies only to contact rugby; non-contact rugby isn’t affected.
As the world’s governing body for the sport of rugby union, World Rugby organizes the Rugby World Cup, the premier rugby union tournament. The sport of rugby has generally been supportive of diversity. According to World Rugby’s Objects and Functions, By-Law 3 was developed “To prevent discrimination of any kind against a country, private person or groups of people on account of ethnic origin, gender, language, religion, politics or any other reason.”
However, World Rugby believes that trans women have a physical advantage over cis women even if they’ve been receiving testosterone reduction therapy for over a year, arguing this could be a safety concern for cis woman. This not only flies in the face of current scientific evidence, it also comes at a time when rugby continues to be one of the world’s fastest growing sports.
International Gay Rugby (IGR), which awards the Bingham Cup, was saddened by this announcement since they’ve been working with World Rugby to help it develop an inclusive transgender athlete policy. In fact, IGR believed World Rugby was building a path toward inclusive rugby for all transgender athletes. Recently, 84 academics wrote to World Rugby, arguing that there is no additional safety risk for cis woman competing with trans women in the sport of contact rugby.
The impact of banning certain athletes from playing the sport they love may keep them from the sport they most love and the very community they most need. Rugby, like Compete Sports Diversity, is a community; it’s a sport that has positions for almost every physiological body type. In 2006 my team played against the San Francisco Fog that had both male and female players. And while that is the only time I have played against women in rugby, the match was fair and no one was injured.
Both my personal and professional recommendation to World Rugby is to continue to work with IGR and finalize a policy that is inclusive. Since 2016 the International Olympic Committee has used scientific evidence to reduce the wait time for trans women taking HRT or Hormone Replacement Therapy from two years to one and many international organizations now use that same standard. It’s a policy that’s inclusive and fair to all participants.