ENGLISH Rugby Union officialdom has decided to impose its own limitations and strict conditions on transgender athletes playing their sport.

Trans women taller than 170cm and weighing more than 90kg, or both, will need to undergo further assessment to determine if they pose a safety risk to other women players or have a “material performance advantage”, according to the draft policy.

The Rugby Football Union (RFU) proposal has essentially opposed the edict from global governing body World Rugby.

It comes nearly six months after World Rugby banned trans women from elite and international women’s games, saying the advantages gained during male puberty carried safety risks.

This of course, is a matter of ongoing moral opinion and scientific investigation. The issue is what constitutes fair play in women’s sport, and the place for transgenderism.

The RFU and other national organisations, including Rugby Australia and New Zealand Rugby, are not legally obligated to use World Rugby rules.

“We want to strike a balance between inclusion, fairness and safe participation,” an RFU spokeswoman opined.

“At the heart of our game is inclusion. It is important to consider the individuals involved and the sense of community and acceptance that our transgender players tell us rugby provides.”

Olympic guidelines use a scientific approach. Since 2015, trans women can compete if they keep their testosterone levels below 10 nanomoles per litre for at least 12 months.

The RFU and other organisations have elected to use a level of 5nmol/L.

Women usually have testosterone below 3nmol/L, against 10 to 30nmol/L for men.

However, 2.5 per cent of women have hyperandrogenism, so have naturally higher levels of testosterone.

The rules vary globally on the approach to the participation of transgender athletes, reflecting the divisiveness of the problem.

The extremes are absolute exclusion, against absolute inclusion without restrictions. The compromise is somewhere in between, but what and how to define this is a difficult task, especially if it is to be accepted globally.

For comparison, Rugby Australia requires a medical specialist to certify an athlete’s safety, Rugby Canada allows trans women to compete without restrictions, while USA Rugby follows Olympic guidelines.

Opponents of trans women competing in women’s sport believe that their greater athletic abilities are not sufficiently mitigated by cross-sex hormones that lower testosterone.

However, the apparent muscular advantage innately exhibited by trans women abates by about five per cent after a year of testosterone-suppressing treatment, according to a 2020 review of existing studies by the University of Manchester and Sweden’s Karolinska Institute.

Allowing competitors who are well above the average woman’s size would be unfair to fellow players, said Tommy Lundberg of the Karolinska Institute.

“It would be not only to the detriment of women but also to the detriment of trans women who would not pass the test,” Lundberg said.

Verity Smith, a rugby player and sport youth worker at trans youth charity Mermaids, disagreed with the RFU proposal as he said it would exclude some trans women and subject them to standards that are not applied to other players.

“This seems discriminatory,” he said.

Smith shared his own experiences. Before he transitioned he had played against non-trans women who were taller than 180cm and weighed over 127kg.

Smith is a trans man who plays wheelchair rugby league having previously played women’s rugby, called England’s stance “a massive step forward for inclusion within the game”.

Smith said a tackle by a 5-foot-tall player born female had caused the injury that put him in a wheelchair and there were no reports of injury caused by trans women in the women’s game.

But Fair Play For Women, which campaigns against trans women in women’s sport, said the international ban put safety top of its agenda in a sport that carries a heavy injury toll.

“World Rugby has put the safety of its professional female players first,” the group tweeted. “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.”

Data shared by RugbyForAll suggested approximately 50 per cent of top England players would fall outside the “arbitrary” height or weight limits.

Meanwhile, Bowls England are updating their “historical and outdated” guidance on transgender bowlers after a trans female was barred from competing.

Previous guidelines referred to “the transsexual gaining most sympathy by acting reasonably”, they should “present themselves in an understated fashion” as few lady bowlers “vamp up” on the green and the opposition should be advised that the member should not “embarrass anyone” involved.

A touch archaic, it seems.

Bowls England stated those previous guidelines were “historical and outdated” and that it would absolutely not recognise or support the language used now.

“We are in the process of developing a new trans and gender-diverse policy,” chief executive Jon Cockroft said.

“Whilst the physical demands of bowls are more modest than most sports, it is still a gender-affected sport.

“Our new policy is being designed to balance a desire for inclusivity, so everybody can feel welcome in bowls, with the importance of ensuring fair competition.

“More broadly, we anticipate more mixed and open competition in the future as people increasingly consume sport on a more casual basis.

“We are at the final stages of consultation on this complex matter and intend to have our new policy in place before the start of the season.”

In an increasingly fluid society on so many issues, the discrimination against transgender individuals is an important topic of conversation.

If non transgender people are asking where transgender people fit, then imagine the same question being asked by those individuals struggling with their identity and sexuality.

Society is being demanded to adjust to the new paradigm. New rules, laws, morals and attitudes are being created. Themes of respect and inclusivity for all are ideals.

What is essential is a mature, intelligent, sensitive discussion and research by all members of society of these most complex issues. Sport is an important area for a possible solution.

Ludo Aequitas – Equality Through Sport – invites your opinion.


Image via economist.com

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