Rugby League bans trans women from competing amid ongoing gender row

21 June 2022, 10:48 | Updated: 21 June 2022, 11:53

Trans women are banned from participating in women's rugby
Trans women are banned from participating in women's rugby. Picture: Alamy

By Emma Soteriou

Transgender athletes are unable to compete in women's international rugby league matches, including this year's World Cup, the sport's global governing body has announced.

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In a statement, the International Rugby League (IRL) said it would use the end-of-year event to help develop a "transwomen inclusion policy" for the future which "takes into consideration the unique characteristics of rugby league".

"Until further research is completed to enable the IRL to implement a formal transgender inclusion policy, male-to-female (transwomen) players are unable to play in sanctioned women's international rugby league matches," the IRL said.

"The IRL is continuing work to review and update rules about transgender participation in women's international rugby league and will seek to use the upcoming World Cup to help develop a comprehensive inclusion policy."

It comes after Fina - the world governing body for swimming - voted to stop transgender competitors from taking part in women's races if they have gone through part of male puberty.

World Athletics president Lord Coe also hinted track and field could follow swimming in banning transgender athletes from elite competition.

Read more: 'What's fair is fair': Caitlyn Jenner backs ban on trans women in female sports

It follows a backlash across several sports on the issue, particularly after 22-year-old Lia Thomas made history by becoming the first transgender person to win a US National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) Division I title. She won the 500-yard freestyle in Atlanta but received a chorus of boos.

IRL said its decision was influenced by "several relevant developments in world sport", including a conclusion from the International Olympic Committee that it was up to each individual sport to weigh up "how an athlete may be at a disproportionate advantage compared with their peers".

Its statement continued: "In the interests of avoiding unnecessary welfare, legal and reputational risk to International Rugby League competitions, and those competing therein, the IRL believes there is a requirement and responsibility to further consult and complete additional research before finalising its policy.

"The IRL reaffirms its belief that rugby league is a game for all and that anyone and everyone can play our sport.

"It is the IRL's responsibility to balance the individual's right to participate - a long-standing principle of rugby league and at its heart from the day it was established - against perceived risk to other participants, and to ensure all are given a fair hearing.

"The IRL will continue to work towards developing a set of criteria, based on best possible evidence, which fairly balance the individual's right to play with the safety of all participants.

"To help achieve this, the IRL will seek to work with the eight Women's Rugby League World Cup 2021 finalists to obtain data to inform a future transwomen inclusion policy in 2023, which takes into consideration the unique characteristics of rugby league."

Under a new policy voted on by swimming body Fina on Sunday, competitors must have completed their transition by the age of 12 in order to compete in women’s competitions.

The move was backed by 71 per cent of Fina’s 152 members.

The governing body will also aim to set up an ‘open’ category for swimmers whose gender identity is different from their birth sex.

Read more: Trans swimmers banned from competing in women’s elite events by sport's governing body

Read more: Olympic cycling chief calls for sport to ban trans athletes from competing against women

Trans Olympic gold medalist Caitlyn Jenner spoke out in support of the ban, saying "what's fair is fair".

The retired athlete, who famously transitioned in 2015, has been outspoken against people born as male from competing in women's sports.

Reacting to the news from Fina, Ms Jenner said: "It worked! I took a lot of heat - but what's fair is fair! If you go through male puberty you should not be able to take medals away from females. Period."

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