Dozens of scholars sign letter to World Rugby to support trans athletes


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 “It’s not been peer reviewed, it’s speculative.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.”

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risk” of injury if a cisgender woman is tackled by a transgender woman, have been criticized for being “based on unpublished, non-peer reviewed research — one study in particular which was not conducted with trans athletes — and predictive modelling.”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.”

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.

Athletics - 86th Australian Championships and Olympic Selection Trials - Queensland Sport & Athletics Centre

Before she was a Ph.D. was an Olympian at 800 meters and a World University Games gold medalist at the distance
Photo by Jon Buckle – PA Images via Getty Images

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
Caroline Layt

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 their permission to publish their names in this article. We received 80 responses, 78 saying they were proud to have their names known; two asked to not have 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.

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

World Rugby letter re transgender guidelines UPDATED.pdf

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


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