World Rugby rules trans women out of elite female teams

Friday, 9 October 2020 20:42 GMT

Rugby Union - Women's Six Nations - England v Wales - Twickenham Stoop, London, Britain - March 7, 2020 England's Poppy Cleall scores their sixth try under pressure from Wales' Kayleigh Powell and Lisa Neumann Action Images via Reuters/Peter Cziborra

Image Caption and Rights Information
Opponents argue that trans women athletes have unfair physical advantages even after transition

By Matthew Lavietes

Oct 9 (Openly) - Transgender women may not participate in elite and international women's rugby, the sport's global governing body World Rugby said on Friday, amid a heated debate on the issue in sports leagues and LGBT+ communities.

In new guidelines, World Rugby said the naturally acquired physical benefits that trans women receive by going through male puberty and the safety concerns for other female players made trans women ineligible for competition.

However it said trans men could compete in men's contact rugby.

"Given the best available evidence for the effects of testosterone reduction on these physical attributes for transgender women, it was concluded that safety and fairness cannot presently be assured for women competing against transwomen in contact rugby," World Rugby said in a statement.

World Rugby, which controls international matches, said it would review the decision annually while national unions had the flexibility to allow trans women to compete at community level.

The inclusion of trans women in elite sport has proved divisive, with sports federations grappling to find a balance between fairness and inclusion.

Opponents argue that trans women athletes have unfair physical advantages even after transition, citing greater muscle density, bone strength and lung capacity.

But transgender advocates say inclusiveness should be the overriding factor and blocking trans athletes from women's sport only increases the stigma and discrimination they face.

Following Friday's decision, U.S. trans rugby player Grace McKenzie said World Rugby had adopted a transphobic policy "lacking supporting evidence and rooted in poor science".

"This ... calls into question their guiding principles of diversity and inclusion, and puts them behind all other international governing sport bodies in creating a welcoming environment for their athletes," McKenzie said in a statement.

Trans scientist, researcher and athlete Joanna Harper, who has advised the International Olympic Committee (IOC), opposed the new rules but said they would have few consequences as there were no trans women competing in international rugby presently.

"It's unlikely to affect too many trans women, if any," Harper told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Ross Tucker, a sports scientist who sat on a panel advising World Rugby, said the decision was not made lightly and it was not possible to balance inclusion, safety and fairness.

"We genuinely did strive for inclusion (see trans men ‘bypass'), but where it is apparent that it would compromise safety and performance, it cannot be achieved," Tucker tweeted.

"Categories of sex exist for a reason and with the contact injury risk of rugby, this is the correct decision."

World Rugby Chairman Sir Bill Beaumont said he was committed to regularly reviewing the guidelines in the future.

"Rugby is a welcoming and inclusive sport and, while this has been a difficult decision to make, it has been taken ... for the right reasons, given the risk of injury," he said in a statement.

Related stories:

New Zealand rugby grapples with transgender debate

Western U.S. state poised to restrict trans athletes in competition

Idaho becomes first U.S. state to ban trans athletes

(Reporting by Matt Lavietes, Editing by Belinda Goldsmith @BeeGoldsmith; Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit

Openly is an initiative of the Thomson Reuters Foundation dedicated to impartial coverage of LGBT+ issues from around the world.

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

Update cookies preferences