Since World Rugby instituted what amounts to a ban on transgender participation in rugby in elite and international competition, even if the organization stopped short of calling it that, the reaction in many corners of the world has been opposition from women’s rights organizations, LGBTQ rights groups and from a number of national governing bodies for the sport. Rugby Canada, USA Rugby and most recently Rugby Australia have affirmed their opposition to World Rugby’s policy change and have questioned the science used to justify it.
Rugby Football Union, England’s governing body for rugby union competition, announced Wednesday that they will continue with their current inclusion policy at the non-elite, domestic levels of the sport. In a statement to The Guardian newspaper, the RFU stated concerns regarding the research methodologies in World Rugby’s process that began eight months ago and openly questioned World Rugby’s conclusions that transgender inclusion would be unsafe.
“The RFU does not currently plan to adopt World Rugby transgender guidelines as it believes further scientific evidence is required alongside detailed consideration of less restrictive measures in relation to the eligibility of transgender players,” the RFU statement noted.
“We will assess the current evidence alongside safety concerns that have been raised. The RFU will also undertake further consultation with players in the women’s game to understand their views,” the RFU statement continue. “The RFU is committed to LGBTQ+ inclusion as well as safety and fairness across all levels of the game.”
At the domestic sub-elite levels of the sport, the current RFU policy toward trans women will continue. That policy provides transgender women can play rugby at the club level provided testosterone level have been less than 5 nmol/L continuously for at least 12 months. However, they are no longer eligible to play for England in any World Rugby sanctioned competitions, including the Olympic games, even though the current domestic policy is in line with International Olympic Committee guidelines that have been in place since 2003 (and were updated in 2016).
One of the major catalysts behind the World Rugby decision, the UK-based anti-trans organization Fair Play For Women, immediately condemned the response. “Everyone knows that in a rough sport like rugby it is dangerous for males to play against females,” Fair Play For Women spokesperson Dr. Nicola Williams told the The Guardian. “And if it’s not safe, it can never be fair either. World Rugby has put the safety of its professional female players first. If the RFU don’t do the same then thousands of amateur players will be left asking why they don’t deserve the same protections.”
Here For Sport welcomes the decision by the RFU today. The fears of injury may come from a real place, the discrimination of trans people cannot be tolerated. The RFU’s approach to evidence based risk and LGBTQ+ inclusion is an example to all NGB’s: https://t.co/Aj92OsH1cI pic.twitter.com/d1A0O7YA6M
— HereForSport (@here_for_sport) October 15, 2020
On the other side, supporters for inclusion applauded the move. The only transgender rugby participant in World Rugby’s working group on the policy, Verity Smith, in an interview with openlynews.com called the RFU decision, “a massive step forward for inclusion within the game.”
Joining Smith in their applause was Prof. Noah Riseman, the author of a letter of opposition signed by 84 academics in sports and public health.
A number of rugby clubs also shouted their support for RFU standing with inclusionary policy.
At Sheffield RUFC Ladies we share @EnglandRugby’s view that “Rugby Union is a sport for all and (…) that anyone who wishes to play the game should be able to do so without prejudice”. We accept and support trans female players according to RFU policy. https://t.co/nB5KaPlCJz
— Sheffield RUFC Ladies (@SheffLadiesRUFC) October 10, 2020
We posted last week to show our disappointment at the atrocious ruling by World Rugby regarding Trans Women. Today, we couldn’t be prouder to support the RFU in clearing Trans Women to play in all levels in England!
— Reading Renegades RFC (@Renegades_RFC) October 14, 2020