Dozens of academics criticise World Rugby’s proposed ban on trans women

Graham Robson September 3, 2020

Dozens of academics have criticised World Rugby’s proposals to ban trans women from playing women’s rugby by writing to the sport’s governing body to insist there is ‘no evidence’ that trans women pose a safety risk to others playing the sport.

The letter, reported in The Guardian, was co-signed by 84 leading academics from a range of fields including sport, public health and sociology. It said:

‘We are opposed to World Rugby’s proposed ban of an entire population group from playing women’s rugby: non-binary people assumed male at birth and transgender women. There is no peer-reviewed, scientific evidence to justify a ban which would only be harmful to trans and gender diverse people.

‘This is not a fringe population affected,” and that “recent research by the American Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found 3.4% of American school students (year 9-12) identify as trans or gender diverse, or they were ‘not sure’ about their gender identity.

‘To develop appropriate guidelines requires ongoing work with transgender athletes and community representatives, and engagement with rigorous, peer-reviewed evidence. These guidelines fail on both accounts.’

World Rugby has defended the research on which its recommendations are based, as well as its application of that research, which has concluded there is a minimum of 20% to 30% increase in injury risk factors when typical male-bodied and female-bodied players are involved in tackles – even when trans women suppress their testosterone in line with International Olympic Committee rules.

A statement from World Rugby said: ‘From the outset, we have sought to balance inclusion, safety and fairness within the context of a physical sport based on strength, power, speed and contact. However, the scientific medical evidence position regarding the impact of testosterone suppression for trans women athletes is compelling, the injury risk at the elite level is real, and should be tackled.

‘While welcoming all contributions, it is simply false to state that the research is not peer-reviewed and insufficient to warrant the approach as evidenced by the numerous published studies, which consider biological advantages of males over females and the slight reduction of advantages when testosterone is suppressed.

‘World Rugby has operated a fully inclusive and extensive transgender guideline consultation process with relevant bodies as evidenced by the ground-breaking workshop in London. Every element was considered and input from trans advocacy groups was sought, and valued, for all the reasons raised by the academics.’

In July, International Gay Rugby (IGR) directly addressed the transgender and non-binary rugby-playing community with the message ‘You will always be welcome to play rugby’, following reports that ongoing work to update World Rugby guidelines would exclude transgender women from the game.

Karl Ainscough-Gates, chair of IGR, said: ‘It’s very surprising to see the restrictive turn that this review of the guidelines has taken, especially with the lack of research that has been conducted.

‘Rugby has always been a sporting role model for diversity and inclusion.We will be working with World Rugby to uphold those commitments and ensure that rugby remains a welcoming and open environment to transgender athletes.

‘To anyone transgender or non-binary who is doubting whether rugby is a sport for them after reading these reports, our message is very clear – Come and play rugby with us! You will always be welcome in IGR.’