Common sense from Rugby Union on Trans People in Sports

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Rachel McKinnon

The World Rugby Union has said that people who were born male but have now changed gender cannot take part in women’s rugby, because peer-reviewed research showed “a clear safety risk” to women in the contact sport.

The Union, who will vote on the issue at an international meeting in November, would be the first international sports federation to issue a prohibition of this kind.

World Rugby said it had undertaken a review of its guidelines in light of the latest peer reviewed research, and that it was committed to “ensuring a safe and inclusive playing environment at all levels of the game”.

In a statement to BBC Sport, it added: “The latest peer reviewed research confirms that a reduction of testosterone does not lead to a proportionate reduction in mass, muscle mass, strength or power. These important determinants of injury risk and performance remain significantly elevated after testosterone suppression.”

“This presents a clear safety risk when transgender women play women’s contact rugby and this position is reflected within draft guidelines that are currently out for stakeholder consultation prior to the World Rugby Council considering the matter later this year.”

The World Rugby report says there was ‘at least a 20 to 30 per cent greater risk’ of a player being injured if she is tackled by a trans woman. It adds that players who went through male puberty are ‘stronger by up to 50 per cent, 30 per cent more powerful, 40 per cent heavier, and about 15 per cent faster’.

The inclusion of transgender athletes in women’s sports has been the source of significant contention in recent years. An athlete called Rachel McKinnon, who had been born and lived as a man until the age of 29 before transitioning and deciding to enter women’s cycling where a 6 foot, muscular, 14 stone frame gave considerable advantage. McKinnon took Gold in the Women’s World Championship cycling. The woman who took the bronze in the 2018 race, American Jennifer Wagner, said afterwards that the race was ‘not fair’.

Aussie rules player, Hannah Mouncey, was also born a male, but now plays on women’s teams, where the considerable advantage of male muscle and strength allows Mouncey to crush the female opposition.

Women’s rights groups have also supported World Rugby’s potential ban. Dr Nicola Williams, director of Fair Play for Women, said: “World Rugby must really be commended for their bravery and integrity, for tackling this head on and following a science-based approach”.

In Australia, Tasmanian Senator Claire Chandler, said that  “Women’s sport was invented for people of the female sex and any suggestion that it is somewhat provocative or controversial to articulate this view I think is pretty ludicrous”.

However, transgender activists say they will fight to have the decision overturned. Against that, women say they will also fight for women’s sports to be open and fair.